- Absentee ballots have begun going out to Detroit voters with Proposal P still on the ballot; however, the fate of the charter question could change pending a decision from the Michigan Supreme Court.
- The proposed city charter is emblematic of the concerns of many Detroiters who feel neglected and forgotten in the recent resurgence of the city in the post-bankruptcy era, driven by a desire to implement progressive governmental reforms.
- There are other means of implementing citizen priorities and important policy ideas outside the city charter such as pursuing collaborative efforts between the private and public sector and utilizing emerging governmental priorities being discussed on the state and federal level.
Absentee ballots have begun going out to Detroit voters with the controversial charter question still on the ballot. The fate of Proposal P could change, however, depending on how the Michigan Supreme Court decides to rule on it’s qualification for the ballot. If the high court decides to keep the question on the ballot, voters will be voting on the February 27 draft charter that was rejected by Governor Whitmer on April 30. If the high court decides to remove the question, voters will not be able to vote on the proposed charter and three years worth of work by the charter revision commission would be put to waste.
Having the status of Proposal P unknown begs the question: how can Detroiters still pursue many of the important provisions and policy ideas that are proposed in the charter if Proposal P is struck down?
Public documents like city charters are products of the events and issues that precede them. The proposed revisions are emblematic of the concerns of many Detroiters who feel neglected and forgotten in the recent resurgence of the city in the post-bankruptcy era. It is a charter driven by the desire to achieve progressive governmental reforms serving to address long-standing issues related to social equity, social justice, racial justice, criminal justice, government transparency, and citizen representation.
While most of the provisions in the proposed city charter are important policy issues that warrant attention, many of them do not belong in a city charter. A city charter functions as a nearly immutable document. Many of the specific provisions that are proposed in the new city charter can be addressed through the ordinance process or amendments to the current charter.
One example of this is the reparations resolution Detroit City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, June 15. The proposed city charter calls for the creation of a permanent Task Force on Reparations and African American Justice that would be charged with identifying the history and impact of slavery and discrimination upon African Americans and the culpability of the City of Detroit. It provides for a reparations package to be developed and implemented with descendants of enslaved Africans receiving compensation from the city. While meritorious in its intent, the provision is overly prescriptive for a city charter and would place a tremendous financial burden on the city. The resolution approved by City Council on Tuesday, however, is a perfect example of how many of the proposed policy ideas provided by the charter commission can be pursued outside the city charter.
Other proposals in the draft city charter can be adopted by city council through ordinance or the resolution process. Ordinances are laws made by the city to adopt rules or policy programs. Resolutions are formal expressions of opinion, will, or intent voted on by city council. Municipal resolutions are generally adopted in written form to document the action and serve as a point of accountability for citizens to ensure promises are being acted on.
While not an endorsement of the proposed charter or the ideas within it, we want to point out that utilizing these processes, city council can create task forces and commissions that would assist them in drafting specific policy programs.
City council could restructure the police and fire departments while changing the approach to policing utilizing many of the ideas put forth in the proposed charter.
Having control of the “purse” in government, city council could change the finance of transit, sidewalks, and the water and sewerage system to ensure more equitable service is provided to Detroiters. It can provide relief for the overassessed as it relates to property taxes and homeownership. It can alter its financial philosophy through the appropriations process to reserve an allocation of funds annually. It can ensure that the executive branch adopts a health in all policy framework that would be used to implement the provision of services, programs, and activities in city government through a public health lens.
These are all mechanisms that our current city charter provides, allowing many of the proposed policy ideas in the draft charter to come to life through other means of governmental action.
Other Avenues for Action
Again, Detroiters’ push for governmental reforms and new policies does not rest solely with the fate of Proposal P and a revised charter. Citizens can still pursue a number of the reforms and priorities articulated in the proposed charter through other avenues. Just taking a look at some of the big ideas in the document suggests that there are options, outside of re-writing the charter, to:
- Develop public and private partnerships in the city to implement and fund programs.
- Engage the city’s broad non-profit sector to assist with the provision and implementation of services and programs.
- Engage the vast number of foundations that work and serve the city on a variety of social justice and equity issues.
- Utilize state and federal resources and programs that are in discussion by the current administrations to address a range of issues including, but not limited to public health, disability rights, access to transit, police reform, water access, environmental justice, housing accessibility, and infrastructure.
One idea for potential collaboration related to accessible transportation (a priority in the proposed city charter) is to develop a public and private partnership between the city and the new Ford Mobility Campus. Another area for the city to pursue social equity in providing property tax relief is to make the city’s current property tax exemption programs (i.e., Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program and the Detroit Tax Relief Fund) more widely accessible and available to Detroit residents.
These are all options for Detroiters to think about as we wait for the fate of Proposal P to be determined by the Michigan Supreme Court. The important policy ideas provided by the proposed city charter do not have to end if the charter question is removed from the ballot. The city and its citizens can continue to pursue these important issues related to equity and social justice utilizing other mechanisms of civic action available in the city. The reparations resolution passed by the city council is one example of how important issues of the time can be addressed through other means in local government outside the city charter. This comes at a time when other states and cities across the nation are passing measures supporting reparations for African Americans, as well as, pursuing initiatives for increased equity and social justice. Detroit can look to these cities and model policy programs that will ensure Detroiters receive a good quality of life through the services their local government provides.