Stephen Henderson is joined by M.L. Elrick of Fox Detroit news and Christine MacDonald, who covered the old City Council for years for the Detroit News. They discuss previous Councils in Detroit and what the city’s current City Council is working on.
Stephen Henderson says:
Detroit City Council has been back in the news lately, as members stalled a vote for final approval of the Red Wings’ new hockey arena and critics began to wonder whether the much ballyhooed changes in the city’s political culture were real, or just for show.
When you think of Detroit City Council– you may instantly think of corruption and cat fights in the chamber that made headlines in decades past.
But some people may also recognize that the job of any city councilor is hard, and that well-intentioned people in Detroit have a difficult job in a city with a declining population and tax base.
We all remember the lows – council members sitting around the table, singing Onward Christian Soldiers in protest of discussions about state management of Belle Isle. The arguments between former councilwoman Monica Conyers and her compatriots, or Sharon McPhail accusing former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of putting an electric shocker in her chair.
I always believed that part of the problem with council was its structure.
When council was all elected citywide, it was hard to hold individual councilmembers responsible for representing the people. If you lived in Southwest, for instance, and were angry about the state of Clark Park or the pollution from the Marathon oil refinery, you couldn’t exactly point to any one council member who was at fault. And you couldn’t decide to run against just one of them – you had to essentially challenge all nine, and get enough votes all over the city to knock someone off.
But in 2010, a critical charter reform process brought real change. Seven of the nine council members are now accountable to specific areas of the city – districts where they are held to the idea of representing the people.
And since then, we’ve seen massive turnover in the council ranks – first of all, the 2009 elections, even before the charter change, were the first in 30 years in which Detroiters elected a fully new majority. And change continued into the 2013, again with many new faces taking seats under the new district system.
Things have seemed better. But change is slow, right? It’s way too much to expect that just two elections would cure everything wrong with a body that was so deeply dysfunctional.
So where do we stand?
Is Detroit City council better than it used to be? Or is it still an impediment to the city’s progress.