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Webinar Analyzing Proposal P – The Proposed Detroit City Charter

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan and BridgeDetroit bring you a webinar to discuss Proposal P, the proposed Detroit City Charter.

If Proposal P is Adopted the new charter would go into effect to create new departments and advisory commissions, shift the balance of power between the mayor’s office and the legislative branch, and create new responsibilities for the city.

If Proposal P is Rejected the current charter will remain in effect. The question of convening a new charter commission would automatically appear on the 2034 ballot. Residents and city leaders could introduce amendments to address changes submitted in the proposed charter.

Major Issues to Consider: Beyond proposing some changes to the organizational structure of city government and altering the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, the proposed charter endeavors to improve quality-of-life issues by ensuring increased representation and equity for Detroit residents; increasing access to city services and programs; and including strategies to increase citizen involvement and government transparency through an equitable development framework. These efforts are likely to affect the efficiency of city government operations and come with a financial cost.


Follow up on Webinar Questions

A number of questions were asked during the webinar. Because we ran out to time, we decided to post the questions here with responses.

I am wondering how it would affect voter turn out in Detroit (which is already delicate) if the voters declare overall that they want to approve proposal p, yet the supreme court essentially wipes away those votes.

Answered during the webinar (starting at 1:05:45). A Supreme Court ruling disqualifying Proposal P from the ballot would have a negative impact on voter turnout and more importantly, voter behavior, as it would impact the way Detroit residents view their power and rights as citizens during elections. We have already seen concerted efforts from groups attacking the legitimacy of Detroit’s vote during the presidential election. There is history of attempts to suppress the votes of Detroit residents and people of color, so I believe this would add on to that narrative. It would have a negative impact on voters’ perceptions of the electoral process which would ultimately impact voter turnout and voter behavior.

What effect will the new charter have on the City’s Historical museums such as DHS, the Wright etc.

The new charter provides authorization to the city to make financial appropriations and allocations to private and public nonprofit institutions to fund the arts. This raises questions and concerns about the propriety of public money being funneled to private institutions that contribute to the arts, and the method of funding oversight. Additionally, the new proposed charter provides specific annual funding for the Charles H. Wright Museum of $3.5 million, adjusted for inflation. It also requires the city to contribute an annual minimum of $550,000 to an endowment fund for the museum. This provision is unusual because no other article or section in the charter specifies a dollar amount for an annual appropriation. There is also no other instance in the city charter where the city is required to contribute annually to an endowment.

How will the adoption of Proposal P potentially affect businesses and employers? There seems to be no specific mention of the role or importance of businesses in the Charter proposal. 

The proposed charter creates a new provision for legacy business incentives. This provision directs the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to provide legacy incentives to businesses in Detroit that have been around for at least 20 years when bidding on City of Detroit goods and services contracts. The proposed charter also provides for the establishment of a Small Business Advocacy Council within the Office of Economic and Consumer Empowerment which would be charged with advocating on behalf of Detroit-based small and minority businesses, monitoring programs and initiatives that assist Detroit-based small and minority businesses, etc.

Having read your report, please explain what section of the proposed charter mandates free broadband.  I see that it mandates creation of a Broadband Commission which will study pathways to free charter.  Do you interpret this as being the same thing?

Answered during the webinar (starting at 44:35). The proposed charter does not mandate free broadband Internet.

The organizational chart includes many positions and organizational unit that are not defined by the existing charter.  Instead of interpreting the positions defined in the new charter as an added cost burden, couldn’t these positions be defined as a shift of responsibility?

Answered during the webinar (starting at 46:10). While a view of the changes could be seen as a shift of responsibilities, making them charter positions with charter specified responsibilities will give them status above ordinance created positions and responsibilities and affect budget prioritization.

I think what this charter speaks to is reducing the mayor’s prerogative in creating new positions and departments, which are not created solely based on economic need and opportunity but also PRIORITIES of the city that are not focused on the needs of residents. Will there be a city internal auditor and/or a system to evaluate the effective performance of city services?

The current charter created a new category of departments referred to as “Independent Departments and Offices.” These departments and offices are outside the authority and jurisdiction of the Mayor and the City Council. They include the Auditor General, the Law Department, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Ombudsperson. These offices function as the city’s internal auditors and have systems in place to evaluate the effective performance of city services. In addition, that is the role of City Council as well to have an oversight role over the executive branch.

The U.S. Constitution has several Amendments. Why can’t the proposed charter revision be amended where necessary, post passage?

The proposed charter can be revised or amended. Each can be proposed by city council with a three-fifths majority vote or by initiatory petition from residents. They both require Governor approval and a vote of the people to pass. For some context, amendments are modifications that provide clarifying details and maintain the general structure of the existing charter but do not change the structure of government. A revision re-examines the entire document and makes fundamental changes to the charter, such as changing the form of government.

Can the city council amend this charter as they see fit? Is the mayor incented to implement charter changes to protect his previous authority?

Answered during webinar (starting at 1:04:05). The City Council can propose amendments to the charter but they will not become effective unless approved by the Governor and the residents of Detroit in a referendum.

Can you explain why the Michigan supreme court is challenging Proposal P?

The Michigan Supreme Court has been asked to rule on a challenge to the process that placed Proposal P on the ballot. Two merged lawsuits against the Detroit City Clerk and Charter Revision Commission sought to block the charter question from the ballot arguing that the charter proposal was improperly submitted for the ballot and the commission’s attempt to circumvent the statutory prerequisite of gubernatorial approval should be rejected. A state law, the Home Rule Cities Act, requires approval from the governor before a charter revision or amendment can be submitted to the voters. The Charter Revision Commission submitted a draft charter to the Governor shortly before the deadline to qualify candidates and referenda for the ballot. The Governor rejected the charter because several sections were inconsistent with state law. The Commission did not have time to address those issues, so Proposal P was placed on the ballot without gubernatorial approval and the charter being voted on has several provisions that would have to be addressed if the proposal is adopted.

Are GLWA & DWSD regulated by our current charter? Are there any changes proposed?

Answered during webinar (starting at 1:02:00). The Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) is under the city charter but the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is not. The proposed charter addresses the organization of DWSD.

Thanks for providing this most informative forum, how can we share with our community?

You can find our analysis and other reports on Proposal P through our main website crcmich.org/ or in our Detroit Bureau website https://crcmich.org/detroit-bureau. We are also on Facebook and Instagram @crcmich.

The charter commission dissolves shortly. Who defends the charter process after the commission disappears?

There is no “defending” the charter process per se. If Proposal P is approved, there is no longer a need for the Commission. If Proposal P is defeated, there is insufficient time to resubmit a ballot proposal because the next general election occurs after the end of the commission’s term. The question of convening a new charter commission would automatically appear on the 2034 ballot. Another charter commission can be convened before 2034 by city council with a three-fifths majority vote or by initiatory petition from residents. They both require Governor approval and a vote of the people to pass.

The charter presumes an unsatisfied demand for citizen demand in city government. My experience is that citizen involvement is actually in short supply. Is it the commissions hope that supply will create demand?

This is a good question and would be better answered by the commission itself.

How are the proposed programs difficult to fund, given the wealth of revenue the city has recently received in the form of COVID relief funds?

The $826 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that the city is receiving is finite. It is a one-time payment that has already been earmarked for specific purposes by the city. The plan specifies that $400 million will be allocated to restore the city’s budget and address fiscal shortfalls. The remaining $426 million will be used toward a Detroit Future Fund to make community investments, including allocations toward jobs, small businesses, housing support, home repair, neighborhood initiatives, and addressing the digital divide. New programs that provide new services may create new costs or expectations of future spending that the city must account for after the money has been exhausted. The city needs to think about how it can generate revenue that will maintain these programs in a manner that will benefit Detroit residents in the long term. In addition, there are no provisions in the proposed charter that provide for alternative or supplemental sources of funding for new programs, services, etc. The city cannot rely on a finite amount of money to fund programs, departments, and services that will last for decades.

All: Why is this webinar being presented with such an obviously subjective narrative against the proposed charter? I attended with the provision that a Bridge Detroit analysis might be decidedly more informative and less propaganda driven. Sigh . . .

We apologize if it seems the webinar was subjective against the proposed charter. We are simply reporting our objective analysis of the proposed charter and had a commissioner from the charter revision commission attending and available to provide his perspective on the analysis and proposed changes. We provided every opportunity for objectivity in our analysis. I encourage you to read our full report which provides an objective, detailed analysis of the proposed city charter. Our analysis was even shared by the People’s Platform, other revision commissioners, and proponents of Proposal P which is an indicator of its impartiality.

What impact will Proposal ‘P’ have of Detroit Pensions?

The proposed charter will have no direct impact on the pensions of former Detroit employees.

The possible indirect impact would come from the city attempting to meet the new spending obligations created by the proposed charter. The city is using all of its taxing authority. That means it would have to create an environment friendly to new development to grow its tax bases to generate more revenue from the taxes levied or take money from existing budget items (public safety, parks, refuse collection, etc.) to fund those new expenditures. Pensions enjoy some constitutional protections and arguably would be off the table for this reprioritization of expenditures, but if the pressures are too great and the city engages in deficit spending, it is possible that a court could order pension cuts to help the city meet its need to maintain a balanced budget. This is somewhat of a worst-case scenario and would play out over several years before anything like this is contemplated.

Concerns about the various positions costing too much, blurring the responsibilities of actions between various commissions, Council and the Mayor, the cost and so on appear fair.  Was the City involved in a meaningful way to debate the provisions and providing input (cost and otherwise) during the process?

Answered during the webinar by Commissioner McCampbell during the webinar (starting at 52:00).

Commissioner Mc Campbell, is it clear which version is on the ballot; is this an issue that the S.Ct. may weigh on?

Answered during the webinar by Commissioner McCampbell during the webinar (starting at 1:00:25).

Webinar Analyzing Proposal P – The Proposed Detroit City Charter

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan and BridgeDetroit bring you a webinar to discuss Proposal P, the proposed Detroit City Charter.

If Proposal P is Adopted the new charter would go into effect to create new departments and advisory commissions, shift the balance of power between the mayor’s office and the legislative branch, and create new responsibilities for the city.

If Proposal P is Rejected the current charter will remain in effect. The question of convening a new charter commission would automatically appear on the 2034 ballot. Residents and city leaders could introduce amendments to address changes submitted in the proposed charter.

Major Issues to Consider: Beyond proposing some changes to the organizational structure of city government and altering the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, the proposed charter endeavors to improve quality-of-life issues by ensuring increased representation and equity for Detroit residents; increasing access to city services and programs; and including strategies to increase citizen involvement and government transparency through an equitable development framework. These efforts are likely to affect the efficiency of city government operations and come with a financial cost.


Follow up on Webinar Questions

A number of questions were asked during the webinar. Because we ran out to time, we decided to post the questions here with responses.

I am wondering how it would affect voter turn out in Detroit (which is already delicate) if the voters declare overall that they want to approve proposal p, yet the supreme court essentially wipes away those votes.

Answered during the webinar (starting at 1:05:45). A Supreme Court ruling disqualifying Proposal P from the ballot would have a negative impact on voter turnout and more importantly, voter behavior, as it would impact the way Detroit residents view their power and rights as citizens during elections. We have already seen concerted efforts from groups attacking the legitimacy of Detroit’s vote during the presidential election. There is history of attempts to suppress the votes of Detroit residents and people of color, so I believe this would add on to that narrative. It would have a negative impact on voters’ perceptions of the electoral process which would ultimately impact voter turnout and voter behavior.

What effect will the new charter have on the City’s Historical museums such as DHS, the Wright etc.

The new charter provides authorization to the city to make financial appropriations and allocations to private and public nonprofit institutions to fund the arts. This raises questions and concerns about the propriety of public money being funneled to private institutions that contribute to the arts, and the method of funding oversight. Additionally, the new proposed charter provides specific annual funding for the Charles H. Wright Museum of $3.5 million, adjusted for inflation. It also requires the city to contribute an annual minimum of $550,000 to an endowment fund for the museum. This provision is unusual because no other article or section in the charter specifies a dollar amount for an annual appropriation. There is also no other instance in the city charter where the city is required to contribute annually to an endowment.

How will the adoption of Proposal P potentially affect businesses and employers? There seems to be no specific mention of the role or importance of businesses in the Charter proposal. 

The proposed charter creates a new provision for legacy business incentives. This provision directs the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to provide legacy incentives to businesses in Detroit that have been around for at least 20 years when bidding on City of Detroit goods and services contracts. The proposed charter also provides for the establishment of a Small Business Advocacy Council within the Office of Economic and Consumer Empowerment which would be charged with advocating on behalf of Detroit-based small and minority businesses, monitoring programs and initiatives that assist Detroit-based small and minority businesses, etc.

Having read your report, please explain what section of the proposed charter mandates free broadband.  I see that it mandates creation of a Broadband Commission which will study pathways to free charter.  Do you interpret this as being the same thing?

Answered during the webinar (starting at 44:35). The proposed charter does not mandate free broadband Internet.

The organizational chart includes many positions and organizational unit that are not defined by the existing charter.  Instead of interpreting the positions defined in the new charter as an added cost burden, couldn’t these positions be defined as a shift of responsibility?

Answered during the webinar (starting at 46:10). While a view of the changes could be seen as a shift of responsibilities, making them charter positions with charter specified responsibilities will give them status above ordinance created positions and responsibilities and affect budget prioritization.

I think what this charter speaks to is reducing the mayor’s prerogative in creating new positions and departments, which are not created solely based on economic need and opportunity but also PRIORITIES of the city that are not focused on the needs of residents. Will there be a city internal auditor and/or a system to evaluate the effective performance of city services?

The current charter created a new category of departments referred to as “Independent Departments and Offices.” These departments and offices are outside the authority and jurisdiction of the Mayor and the City Council. They include the Auditor General, the Law Department, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Ombudsperson. These offices function as the city’s internal auditors and have systems in place to evaluate the effective performance of city services. In addition, that is the role of City Council as well to have an oversight role over the executive branch.

The U.S. Constitution has several Amendments. Why can’t the proposed charter revision be amended where necessary, post passage?

The proposed charter can be revised or amended. Each can be proposed by city council with a three-fifths majority vote or by initiatory petition from residents. They both require Governor approval and a vote of the people to pass. For some context, amendments are modifications that provide clarifying details and maintain the general structure of the existing charter but do not change the structure of government. A revision re-examines the entire document and makes fundamental changes to the charter, such as changing the form of government.

Can the city council amend this charter as they see fit? Is the mayor incented to implement charter changes to protect his previous authority?

Answered during webinar (starting at 1:04:05). The City Council can propose amendments to the charter but they will not become effective unless approved by the Governor and the residents of Detroit in a referendum.

Can you explain why the Michigan supreme court is challenging Proposal P?

The Michigan Supreme Court has been asked to rule on a challenge to the process that placed Proposal P on the ballot. Two merged lawsuits against the Detroit City Clerk and Charter Revision Commission sought to block the charter question from the ballot arguing that the charter proposal was improperly submitted for the ballot and the commission’s attempt to circumvent the statutory prerequisite of gubernatorial approval should be rejected. A state law, the Home Rule Cities Act, requires approval from the governor before a charter revision or amendment can be submitted to the voters. The Charter Revision Commission submitted a draft charter to the Governor shortly before the deadline to qualify candidates and referenda for the ballot. The Governor rejected the charter because several sections were inconsistent with state law. The Commission did not have time to address those issues, so Proposal P was placed on the ballot without gubernatorial approval and the charter being voted on has several provisions that would have to be addressed if the proposal is adopted.

Are GLWA & DWSD regulated by our current charter? Are there any changes proposed?

Answered during webinar (starting at 1:02:00). The Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) is under the city charter but the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is not. The proposed charter addresses the organization of DWSD.

Thanks for providing this most informative forum, how can we share with our community?

You can find our analysis and other reports on Proposal P through our main website crcmich.org/ or in our Detroit Bureau website https://crcmich.org/detroit-bureau. We are also on Facebook and Instagram @crcmich.

The charter commission dissolves shortly. Who defends the charter process after the commission disappears?

There is no “defending” the charter process per se. If Proposal P is approved, there is no longer a need for the Commission. If Proposal P is defeated, there is insufficient time to resubmit a ballot proposal because the next general election occurs after the end of the commission’s term. The question of convening a new charter commission would automatically appear on the 2034 ballot. Another charter commission can be convened before 2034 by city council with a three-fifths majority vote or by initiatory petition from residents. They both require Governor approval and a vote of the people to pass.

The charter presumes an unsatisfied demand for citizen demand in city government. My experience is that citizen involvement is actually in short supply. Is it the commissions hope that supply will create demand?

This is a good question and would be better answered by the commission itself.

How are the proposed programs difficult to fund, given the wealth of revenue the city has recently received in the form of COVID relief funds?

The $826 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that the city is receiving is finite. It is a one-time payment that has already been earmarked for specific purposes by the city. The plan specifies that $400 million will be allocated to restore the city’s budget and address fiscal shortfalls. The remaining $426 million will be used toward a Detroit Future Fund to make community investments, including allocations toward jobs, small businesses, housing support, home repair, neighborhood initiatives, and addressing the digital divide. New programs that provide new services may create new costs or expectations of future spending that the city must account for after the money has been exhausted. The city needs to think about how it can generate revenue that will maintain these programs in a manner that will benefit Detroit residents in the long term. In addition, there are no provisions in the proposed charter that provide for alternative or supplemental sources of funding for new programs, services, etc. The city cannot rely on a finite amount of money to fund programs, departments, and services that will last for decades.

All: Why is this webinar being presented with such an obviously subjective narrative against the proposed charter? I attended with the provision that a Bridge Detroit analysis might be decidedly more informative and less propaganda driven. Sigh . . .

We apologize if it seems the webinar was subjective against the proposed charter. We are simply reporting our objective analysis of the proposed charter and had a commissioner from the charter revision commission attending and available to provide his perspective on the analysis and proposed changes. We provided every opportunity for objectivity in our analysis. I encourage you to read our full report which provides an objective, detailed analysis of the proposed city charter. Our analysis was even shared by the People’s Platform, other revision commissioners, and proponents of Proposal P which is an indicator of its impartiality.

What impact will Proposal ‘P’ have of Detroit Pensions?

The proposed charter will have no direct impact on the pensions of former Detroit employees.

The possible indirect impact would come from the city attempting to meet the new spending obligations created by the proposed charter. The city is using all of its taxing authority. That means it would have to create an environment friendly to new development to grow its tax bases to generate more revenue from the taxes levied or take money from existing budget items (public safety, parks, refuse collection, etc.) to fund those new expenditures. Pensions enjoy some constitutional protections and arguably would be off the table for this reprioritization of expenditures, but if the pressures are too great and the city engages in deficit spending, it is possible that a court could order pension cuts to help the city meet its need to maintain a balanced budget. This is somewhat of a worst-case scenario and would play out over several years before anything like this is contemplated.

Concerns about the various positions costing too much, blurring the responsibilities of actions between various commissions, Council and the Mayor, the cost and so on appear fair.  Was the City involved in a meaningful way to debate the provisions and providing input (cost and otherwise) during the process?

Answered during the webinar by Commissioner McCampbell during the webinar (starting at 52:00).

Commissioner Mc Campbell, is it clear which version is on the ballot; is this an issue that the S.Ct. may weigh on?

Answered during the webinar by Commissioner McCampbell during the webinar (starting at 1:00:25).


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