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Citizens raise concerns about new charter entities

By Marcus Wight
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Two new City Charter-mandated councils are stalled in a bureaucratic tangle. Both the Community Advisory Councils (CAC) and the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) are mandated by the 2012 Charter but not yet enacted. Residents voiced their concern at a Sept. 17 community meeting hosted by the New North End Woodward Community Coalition.

The CACs are to be a conduit between the community and city council. In a quasi-official capacity, the CACs are to communicate the concerns of groups, businesses or residents. They are to improve the flow of information between residents and city council.

The Charter language states: “The City Council shall create advisory councils districts that shall be the same as the districts from which the council members are elected.” The charter further states the ordinance shall be adopted within 90 days after the effective date of the Charter.

The City Council has yet to create the ordinance.

City Planning Commission Director Marcell Todd said the next council, elected by district, will create the ordinance that establishes seven CAC’s. The CAC’s will not be established until November 2014.

The CAC members will be elected from their respective districts. Two of the seven members will be appointed. A youth member between the ages of 13 and 17 will be chosen along with a member representing senior issues. The other five will be elected according to the procedures set forth in the ordinance.

Kristofor Harrison believes the CACs will offer citizens a responsive model for city government. “I think within the new Council-by-district framework, the CACs can be effective. I believe they can keep their respective council person informed of the needs within their districts, and that council person, in turn, can apply pressure to the mayor to address their concerns. If done right, CAC’s can form the foundation for community and political power in each district upon which each Council person, and even the mayor, rely,” said Harrison.

“As with all elections, this will depend on people electing quality individuals who want to see change in their districts, and aren’t just using the CAC as a political spring board to higher office.”

Many, however, expressed concern about the CAC election process. Residents are concerned that economic inequality within District 5 will harm representation on the advisory council, as many of the city’s corporate businesses such as Compuware or Quicken Loans are located within their district. Residents believe business leaders may manipulate the process, have their candidate elected and steer resources downtown.

Tanya Meyers-Phillips, from the city’s law department, although not at the meeting in an official capacity, was called on by Todd to respond to the residents concerns. Meyers-Phillips said there is always inequity in campaigns but areas like the North End must create grassroots efforts to assure their interest are represented.

The Charter also allows for the creation of a Transportation Advisory Board. To be appointed, citizens must submit an application to the mayor’s office. Detroiter Hannah Kelley has applied. According to Kelley, it was a frustrating process. She was only able to get one application at a time and says she doesn’t believe the city is prepared.

“(A city worker) gave me an application. I asked her if I could have two more applications for others who wanted to apply,” Kelley said. “She told me, ‘No, applicants must personally get their applications from me.’”

Kelley said the application’s language was not clear and, when she asked for a receipt or some indication she had submitted an application, she was refused. She also said she was unable to sign the visitor’s log.

Kelley says she believes the city was not ready to handle her request for an application.

“The mayor’s office was not aware it was coming up. We brought it to their attention. Someone quickly delegated it,” said Kelley.

Kelley said some of the clerks seem to be outright hostile. “Why would they want a board that would hold them accountable?” Kelley asked. “That may be why there are no publications of instructions on how to become a TAB member.”

Kelley said she also believes the mayor is an “obstructionist” who discourages citizen engagement which, in turn, breeds distrust and resentment from citizens. She says she is filing a complaint with the city’s law department.

Contact Marcus Wright at marcuswright@michigancitizen.com

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