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State appoints young, fresh face to run Benton Harbor beginning next month

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Joe Harris was appointed by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in April of 2010. He expects the city's financial 'emergency' will be over in less than 8 months.

As expected, the state has replaced Benton Harbor’s emergency manager. Joe Harris has served as Benton Harbor’s emergency manager since former Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed him in March 2010. His contract expires January 31st.

Harris made progress in cutting the city’s deficit, but has been blamed for keeping the community in the dark about his decisions recently. Some of the city’s elected officials asked the state to replace Harris last month. Although state officials are not acknowledging that’s the reason, a letter from Deputy Treasurer Roger Fraser explains the state would work to fulfill the request.

Terry Stanton is with Michigan’s Treasury Department. He says now is a “good time” for the transition, but wouldn’t say exactly what prompted it.

“Joe Harris has done much heavy lifting when it comes to addressing the problems in Benton Harbor and trying to remedy the financial emergency there. But the bottom line is the city is still in a financial emergency,” Stanton said.

Stanton says the state expects Saunders “to collaborate more closely with local officials” than Harris did.

Tony Saunders II will replace Harris February 1, 2013. Saunders, in his mid-20s, has worked with officials in Detroit and Highland Park. He’s a partner in a marketing company and graduated in 2009 from the University of Michigan. Stanton says he will make $11,000 a month, as Harris has.

Harris did not respond to requests for comment on this story. However, he says he’ll take questions about the transition during a press conference he had planned for Wednesday.

Saunders also has not responded to requests for comment on this story.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s investigative reporter. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor and West Michigan Reporter.
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