Detroiters will have the chance to vote on a new charter, a potential restructuring of the city’s government, during the upcoming August primary municipal election. The Detroit Election Commission approved the ballot question, now dubbed “Proposal P,” during a 2-1 vote on Thursday.
But there’s uncertainty among drafters of the document and election officials on the specific charter they will be voting on.
“The version I provided the true copy certification for is the only one that we considered,” City Clerk Janice Winfrey told WDET. “It was the only one that I put up to vote today.” The city clerk says she received the “true copy” of the charter on May 5.
Winfrey, who chairs Detroit’s election commission, voted to approve the ballot question along with Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the people,” Winfrey said. “I think that’s how democracy is supposed to be run. And as a gatekeeper of democracy, it’s important that I lead by example. So let the people decide.”
Revised Charter Document Three Years in the Making
The Detroit Charter Revision Commission has worked to amend the document following the state’s rejection of a draft on April 30, amid what Governor Gretchen Whitmer called “substantial and extensive legal deficiencies.”
“There’s been an agenda to subvert the will of the people by sabotaging this charter at every point.” — Renard Monczunski, Detroit People’s Platform
While the Michigan Attorney General’s office stated that the Governor’s approval is not a prerequisite to put the charter question before voters, the Charter Revision Commission has made efforts to heed the state’s legal analysis and make changes. Commissioners completed those amendments the night of May 11, hours after the city clerk’s filing deadline.
“There is no language the Charter Commission has been made aware of that gives a deadline to amend revisions before the election,” said Charter Revision Commission Vice-Chair Nicole Small.
Detroit’s Charter Revision Commission spent nearly three years drafting a new governing structure for the city. The group worked with community activists to amend language on water affordability, public broadband and limitations on mayoral powers.
“There’s been an agenda to subvert the will of the people by sabotaging this charter at every point,” Renard Monczunski, an organizer with the Detroit People’s Platform, told the city election commission at public comment. “During its revision process with the lack of funding. And now we hear in this body where there was an attempt to keep it off the ballot.”
Proposed Charter Revision Receives Pushback From Local Officials
Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia, the third member of the Detroit Election Commission, voted against the effort, citing concerns on the finalization of the document.
“I resent the accusation that anyone on the Detroit Election Commission has any political agenda, any racial bias, or any desire to subvert democracy,” Garcia said after the vote. “The rules and deadlines supplied by the law are available to everyone. And it is regrettable that the people in charge with submitting a clear and timely proposal that the governor of the state can approve to Detroit’s voters have not been able to do so without controversy.”
Garcia and others in the mayor’s office have made several statements opposing the charter revision effort. The law department believes the governor’s approval is required to approve the charter, a legal position that counters the opinion of the state AG.
In addition to legal concerns, the Duggan administration forecasts an untenable financial obligation for Detroit. The city’s office of the Chief Financial Officer says new provisions could cost the city $2 billion over the next four years. The mayor’s office believes that sort of financial commitment could put the city back under direct state oversight with the Detroit Financial Review Commission.
“I have no idea what they’re doing. They missed the deadline. I have no idea what they’re sending up to the governor at this point,” said Mayor Mike Duggan ahead of the election commission vote. “I’ll leave it to the lawyers to sort out, but it appears to me they’ve missed the deadline to make any changes.”
A spokesperson for the mayor says the office is reviewing the matter and has not discussed proceeding with a lawsuit.
The Charter Revision Commission’s plans for an educational outreach campaign ahead of the August 3 primary, but many are concerned that the group does not have enough funding to do it properly. Detroit City Council approved nearly $160,000 to cover budget shortfalls for the drafting commission earlier this month. Charter revision commissioners say more funding is necessary to circulate the charter proposal, a 150-page document.
“We want to make sure that folks make an informed decision and be able to go into the ballot box to vote for this really forward-thinking charter that puts the city, I believe, on a path to ensure that folks have a great quality of life.” — Denzel McCampbell, Charter Revision Commissioner
“We’re still going to work with community advocates, community organizations. We’re going to make sure we get this information out to folks through all the various media avenues we have to ensure that people know what’s in this charter,” said Charter Revision Commissioner Denzel McCampbell.
“We want to make sure that folks make an informed decision and be able to go into the ballot box to vote for this really forward-thinking charter that puts the city, I believe, on a path to ensure that folks have a great quality of life,” McCampbell adds.