At-Large Candidates Promise More Transparency and Accountability on Detroit City Council

Four candidates vie for two seats, including incumbent Janee Ayers. She says she’s focused on issues rather than investigations.

Federal agents recently searched the home and office of Detroit City Councilmember Janee Ayers as part of a corruption investigation that led to bribery charges against fellow council member Andre Spivey. Earlier this year Gabe Leland resigned after pleading guilty to felony misconduct. Ayers is not charged with any crimes and hasn’t said much publicly about the probe related to city towing contracts. But she did answer a few questions about it ahead of the Nov. 2 general election.

“I’d like to be judged on my merit and what I’ve done over the last 6 1/2 years.” — Detroit City Councilwoman Janee Ayers, on the FBI’s search of her home

Ayers says she doesn’t know why the FBI searched her home in August. When asked why she missed a council vote to reform towing practices in October, she said her birthday was around that time and she decided to take a personal break. Ayers also says it’s not something voters ask about much when she’s out campaigning for reelection.

City of Detroit/Flickr
City of Detroit/Flickr

I’d like to be judged on my merit and what I’ve done over the last six-and-a-half years in this space, but more importantly, 14 years as a city worker,” she says.

Ayers was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council in 2015 and won a full four-year term in 2017. As chair of the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee, she has a lot of influence on the council’s spending priorities. She says the council needs to continue putting money into the city’s “rainy day” fund to guard against major costs that could jeopardize Detroit’s financial health. One looming cost is pensions for retired city workers.

“We have to be very cognizant about how we manage those pension obligations, as well as still providing city services to residents,” she says.

Ayers says the council has been fiscally responsible.

“We’ve made tough decisions while we still made sure to balance the budget to provide service, then opportunity,” Ayers says. “So I think we have to continue on the same trajectory to make sure that Detroiters have what they deserve.”

Besides questions about investigations, Ayers also faces three challengers on the November ballot. Her opponents say government transparency is something Detroiters deserve.

“I am fully committed to sharing information.” — Nicole Small, Detroit City Council at-large candidate 

Challenger Nicole Small says if elected, she won’t vote for anything without telling residents how it will benefit them.

Nicole Small
Nicole Small

“I am fully committed to sharing information and making sure to the best of my ability that Detroiters know about opportunities and decisions that are being made that will have a direct impact on them,” Small says. “They don’t have that.”

Small is vice chair of Detroit’s Charter Revision Commission. She says too many contracts and development deals get approved behind closed doors with no accountability or follow-up to ensure those who promise to hire city residents keep their word.

“We need to make sure that every 30 days we receive a report from these corporations, these developers and these contractors saying, ‘hey, these are the people that we reached out to, these are our recruitment efforts to engage Detroiters, this is the number of people we had respond, these are the number of people that we interviewed,’” Small says.

Small finished fourth in the August primary, receiving about half as many votes as Mary Waters, who came in third.

Related: View WDET’s candidate guides for Detroit MayorCity Council and Clerk

“If you are going into public service because you want to enrich yourself, then do something else.” — Mary Waters, Detroit city council at-large candidate 

Waters, a former state lawmaker, says she would bar contractors from using fake addresses to win deals with the city. She also says information about contracts and city spending should be available online.

Courtesy of Mary Waters
Courtesy of Mary Waters

“How their money is spent, who’s getting donations from whom, that kind of thing,” Waters says. “Having people to recuse themselves when they have these real close relationships with these contracts.”

Waters has faced questions about her own ethics. In 2010, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor related to an expensive watch she accepted and a false tax return she filed. Waters says the watch was a gift from her boyfriend at the time and received it four years after she was term-limited out of office. She says she served with integrity in the state House and would do the same if elected to the City Council.

“See, when you get elected to office and you think it’s about you, that’s a huge problem,” Waters says. “If you are going into public service because you want to enrich yourself, then do something else — that is not the place for you.”

Waters says city leaders have ignored the needs of residents. She vows to fight against tax giveaways to wealthy developers.

“I believe the turnaround has not happened for most Detroiters,” she says. “If majority-Black Detroit does not survive, the city will not survive.”

Waters is one of two former state lawmakers in the at-large council race.

“I think we need to have an open process.” — Coleman Young Jr., Detroit city council at-large candidate 

Former state Sen. Coleman Young Jr. says if elected, he would look at revising the city’s ethics ordinance and increasing transparency.

AnnMarie Scaramuzzino/WDET
AnnMarie Scaramuzzino/WDET

“I think we need to have an open process, open as much as we possibly can without endangering people, within reason,” Young says.

The son of former Mayor Coleman A. Young ran for mayor himself in 2017 and brings many ideas to the council race, from improving Detroit’s water infrastructure and flood prevention to generating more neighborhood business investment.

“I want to get to the concept of 15-minute neighborhoods,” Young says. “So there is nothing outside of any neighborhood that you need that’s not 15 minutes away, whether it’s a store, a dry cleaner, any sort of need that you might have.”

Young finished second in the August primary, behind incumbent Janee Ayers. The top two vote-getters on Nov. 2 will win the at-large seats. One will succeed Brenda Jones, who’s retiring.

Listen: Four candidates vie for two at-large seats on Detroit City Council.

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  • Pat Batcheller
    Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.