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Commission adopts sweeping plan to revise Detroit City Charter

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Correction: Detroit’s deputy chief financial officer, Tanya Stoudemire, wrote in a memo to the council that the revisions would increase the city’s spending by well over $ 800 million annually. The amount was incorrect in a previous version.

The Detroit Charter Commissioners on Saturday passed a comprehensive suite of proposed amendments to Detroit’s charter and decided to send their plan to state officials for review.

The commission is committed to increasing government transparency and accountability and improving access to transportation, water and housing in the plan they want to get ahead of Detroit voters in the August 3rd primary.

The vote comes days after Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s government criticized the Commission’s charter revision. Some are illegal and others so costly that they could bring the city back into bankruptcy after bankruptcy.

“We have a great document that I hope the governor will approve and we will put it on the ballot for citizens to vote on,” said Commission Chair Carol Weaver, noting that some changes are being made on Saturday were taken into account in the comments made by the Detroit City Council and City Council.

“This process involved liaising with residents, community organizations, experts and city officials – including the mayor’s office, city council and various entities within city government,” she added in a statement.

Much of the feedback from the city, she said, came after the February 12 deadline, but has still been taken into account.

“We were open to their suggestions. We adopted some of them and not others,” said Weaver. “I know it was a bit rocky, but the citizens were with us.”

The draft is the culmination of three-year efforts by the Charter Commission to propose changes to the 2012 City Charter. In 2018, the voters in Detroit commissioned the nine-member commission to carry out the work.

The group’s early efforts were contentious, with crowded community meetings and feuds among commissioners over statutes and meeting minutes.

Detroit’s deputy chief financial officer, Tanya Stoudemire, warned in a memorandum to the Detroit Council on Monday that the Commission’s revisions could spark an “impending financial crisis,” which the city owes $ 3.4 billion in four years Placing an emergency manager and violating the provisions of the law would trigger the city’s bankruptcy warrant.

John Roach, a spokesman for Duggan, said Saturday that the administration had not seen the changes and could not comment.

The draft is now being forwarded to Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Attorney General’s office Dana Nessel for a 90-day review. If approved, voters in this summer’s primaries would be reconsidered before the electorate.

The City Charter operates under the United States Constitution and the Michigan Constitution and defines the structure of city government, its powers, and responsibilities.

“If the governor (or the attorney general) responds to anything with a problem, we have time to re-examine those problems,” noted Nicole Small, vice chairman of the Detroit Charter Commission.

The Charter Commission is expected to vote on a final draft for any changes on June 8th.

Small countered earlier this week that the government’s criticism was a vague last-minute “bullying” tactic to derail proposed changes to the charter.

“We took a lot of time to review all of these suggestions and try to make the best decisions to improve public access to government and to make sure your voice is heard,” she said during the Zoom Meetings on Saturday.

During a public comment on Saturday, resident activist Tawana Petty and a number of other advocacy officials thanked the Commission for their efforts to “bring justice back to Detroit” with affordable housing, transit and water, immigration rights and proposed public safety changes.

“Everyone deserves a true quality of life, and your historic efforts will enshrine those rights in the city’s constitution,” said Petty. “Please stand strong. People will help you get through this.”

Jai Singletary, who served as Resident Services Manager for Councilor Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, noted that there has been “a lot of turmoil and setback” but “we encourage you to stay strong”.

Stoudemire wrote in her memo to the council that the revisions requiring additional elected city commissions, changes in economic development policies and changes in city contracting procedures would increase city spending by well over $ 800 million annually.

At the same time, Stoudemire claimed the revisions would result in lost revenue from the creation of a free fare system for buses, new requirements for the water pricing system, and revised calculations of median income that would cost Detroit Federal Block Grant dollars.

Detroit Charter Commissioner Denzel McCampbell stressed during Saturday’s session that the commission had proposed a low-income tariff plan. There is no search for free tickets as claimed.

The charter proposal, Stoudemire said, does not comply with state budget rules or local finance laws and would expose the city to litigation and financial risk if it went bankrupt.

Weaver claims the city’s budgetary assumptions are “inexplicable” and the commission examined each proposal to take into account the financial implications. She urged city officials to attend the meeting of the commission on March 9th.

“This process is ongoing as we await feedback from Lansing. We are certainly open to hearing from the city of Detroit and residents about what is in this document,” she said.

In 2014, Detroit ended the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history with a deal that allowed the city to reduce $ 7 billion in debt, restructure another $ 3 billion, and $ 1.7 billion Invest in service improvements.

Through a financing package that shaped the “big bargain”, the city managed to protect the city’s art collection from bankruptcy creditors and to moderate pension cuts for retirees.

The debt reduction plan relieved the city of much of its pension payments through 2023. In 2024, Detroit will have to fund a significant portion of these obligations from its general fund for the general retirement system and the police and fire department pension system.

During a press conference recently, Duggan claimed the commission had made no effort to evaluate its ideas and that if Detroit went bankrupt again, the charter plan would pose a “serious threat” to retirees’ pensions.

Since going bankrupt, the city has successfully balanced budgets and has been released from strict government oversight. However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in virus-related deficits of more than $ 410 million, which resulted in cuts and budget revisions.

The Legislative Policy Division of Detroit City Council also looked at the charter proposal. In a February 15 memorandum, the LPD concluded that most of the recommendations are legitimate but inappropriate, “extremely expensive to implement and, unless large sources of income suddenly emerge, could hamper efficient government”.

Among the proposals, the Commission wants the city’s chief lawyer to be elected instead of remaining mayor, and seeks the addition of two elected bodies: a group of fire chiefs and election commissioners.

Other changes range from requiring contractors to provide detailed reports on hiring and wages, special incentives for longstanding Detroit companies to award contracts, to measures to improve the affordability of housing.

Charter commissioners spent three hours on Saturday unveiling changes to the plan, including changes to sections dealing with electoral procedures and voter education efforts. In addition, the residence requirements for the proposed fire brigade and election commissions have been clarified. With the help of the Commission’s legal advisor, the language was also clarified to ensure compliance with certain proposals.

The Commission had previously recommended an upper limit of five years for certain tax breaks. In the revisions passed on Saturday, the body instead called for a review of compliance with tax break agreements and the associated benefits for the community every five years.

Weaver urged participants at the Saturday meeting to inform the public about the proposals.

“This is your charter and we will need all hands on deck to make it happen,” she said.

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Dusty Kennedy