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City Council passes charter revisions after governor denies them

Amendments would clarify counsel’s role, allow some gifts, gratuities

By Mike Sandula
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Detroit residents will get to decide on four proposed changes to the City Charter in the Nov. 6 election.

After Gov. Rick Snyder denied three proposed City Charter amendments, City Council voted to approve them anyway.

The three amendments would remove the prohibition on gifts to city officials and employees (Proposal G), provide a “personal services contracts” exemption to the Charter’s one-year post-employment lobbying prohibition (Proposal P) and expand the power of corporation counsel (Proposal C).

Gov. Snyder did approve a fourth amendment (Proposal E) that would provide for a fixed minimum and maximum number of signatures required for nominating petitions, in lieu of the percentage-based minimums and maximums currently set.

In a letter dated Sept. 6 and addressed to Krystal Crittendon, Detroit corporation counsel, Gov. Snyder wrote that “one of the key features of that proposed Charter … was the ‘clean government’ provisions of the document, which were designed to prevent corruption, cronyism and the use of public resources for private gain.” He says proposals G, C and P “appear to signal a retreat from the ethical standards set by the Charter and I cannot support them.”

That same day, City Council voted to put the three amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot, overriding Gov. Snyder’s denial. Council voted 6-3 to approve the amendment regarding the prohibition of gifts, with Council members JoAnn Watson, Kwame Kenyatta and Gary Brown voting no. The other two revisions were approved unanimously.

Under the Home Rule City Act, Council is permitted to overrule Snyder’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

Corporation counsel, as the Charter currently reads, is directed to provide legal counsel “when directed to do so by the mayor. Proposal C amends this section to add the phrase “except pursuant to Section 7.5-209, which permits the corporation counsel to take judicial action on his or her own initiative” to require city officials and employees to comply with the requirements of the Charter.

Crittendon had previously filed a judgment, without the consent of the mayor, on the legality of the Consent Agreement the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit had entered into. Ingham County Court Judge William Collette ruled that Crittendon had exceeded her authority. The proposal is meant to clarify counsel’s authority.

“Basically, (the proposal) just clarifies that corporation counsel does have authority to take judicial action if the city charter if being violated,” said DeAndre Watson, a policy analyst who works in Council President Charles Pugh’s office.

At a Sept. 10 City Council session, some Council members said the prohibition on gifts is too strict, lamenting that, as currently written, the City Charter currently prohibits them even from eating school lunches with children.

“(Proposal G) allows Council to set definitions of what is of value and what is not of value,” Watson said. “Currently, nothing is deemed of value,” meaning being granted free entry into a fair, for instance, would be a violation of the Charter.

The Charter currently reads that “a public servant shall not accept gifts, gratuities, honoraria or other things of value” from anyone seeking to influence or that is affected by city policies.

Proposal P overturns a section of the Charter that prohibits city officials and city employees for one year after leaving their posts from lobbying or appearing before any part of the city government and receiving compensation for any matter in which they were involved with while working for the city. Watson said there are “cost savings the city can realize” from approving this amendment.

Contact Mike Sandula at mikesandula@michigancitizen.com

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