Last-minute tweaks to document leave observers guessing
Published: May 25, 2011
"I don't understand why they say best practices have a smaller ratio of constituents to district council members, and then increase that," says Keenan.
He say, too, that because council sets its own budget, there's no guarantee that they won't increase the size of their staffs, offsetting any savings to be gained from cutting the number of council members.
"I hope there is a way to reverse that decision, because months and months of work went into doing it one way, and then in 20 minutes they undid it," says Keenan.
He may get his hope. The commission was scheduled to meet again Tuesday evening, after MT goes to press, and possibly on Saturday, May 28, if work on the draft remains unfinished.
Detroit architect Alexander Derdelakos, who along with Jacqueline Bejma created a website in December to provide info about the commission, points out that, even though the city's population has fallen sharply since the last time the charter was revised in 1997, the council has had nine members since the early part of the 1900s, when the city's population was only around 200,000.
He described Saturday's vote as "pretty shocking."
Among other things, if the reduction in the size of council sticks, other changes will be required because a number of other bodies — such as the city Planning Commission and the like — are supposed to be composed of at least seven members, with one representing each district, and two at large members. But if there are only five council districts ... well, you see the problem.
On the other hand, much of the work done by the commission has been praiseworthy. Thanks to felonious Kwame Kilpatrick and a few high-profile cases involving previous City Council members (paging Monica Conyers), a lot of attention has been paid to ways to ferret out wrongdoing.
Barring any more last-minute changes of significance, the draft charter will propose creating the Office of Inspector General, which will be responsible for "rooting out waste, abuse, fraud and corruption."
The commission, however, didn't propose where the money to pay for such an office will come from — except to say that money to sufficiently fund it must be appropriated annually. That's an important question, considering that the mayor and council are looking for ways to slash the current budget. On the other hand, if the IG's office is effective, countless millions could be saved.
The draft charter also seeks to clean up city government in other ways. There are beefed-up ethics standards — as well as plans to create a Board of Ethics. Also included in the draft are new financial disclosures requirements, new rules for lobbyists and contractors, and rules clearly defining how officials can be removed from office.
As Commission Chair Jenice Mitchell Ford was previously quoted saying, "This charter has gone from Lassie to Cujo."
In other words, it has some real teeth.
The question now is, how much headcheese will we have to chew on?
For that, we'll have to see exactly what's in the final version of this all-important document.
Speaking of the new charter, one of the proposals holding the most potential for controversy involves the Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees the Police Department.
As currently structured, the board has five members — all appointed by the mayor. Critics contend that because the mayor also appoints the police chief, he's not going to want people on the board who are inclined to be overly critical of the department.
There's also the issue of the federal consent decrees the department has long been operating under. As activist Ron Scott, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality previously pointed out, if the commission were truly effective, problems involving the use of excessive force and other issues would never have gotten so out of control that the feds found it necessary to step in.
Scott and other reformers were recommending that police commissioners be elected rather than appointed. The Charter Commission, seeking a Solomonic compromise, is proposing a hybrid situation with four commissioners appointed by the mayor and seven elected members.
As with other commissions, the proposed reduction of council districts from seven to five would appear to necessitate a change in this structure if the change made last Saturday makes it into the final draft.
Even dull-eyed readers will have noticed the contradiction inherent in more than doubling the size of the police commission while at the same time reducing the size of council.
Consider that another piece of headcheese to chew on.
Another significant change that's proposed for the commission is the role it plays in selecting any new chief of police. As it is now, that's a decision that's left exclusively to the mayor. Under the proposed charter, however, the Board of Police Commissioners would "conduct a professional search and provide the mayor with a list of qualified candidates to chose from." In addition, the council would have to approve the mayor's selection before the new chief could be installed. (In fact, the new charter gives council a new power to confirm other mayoral appointees including fire commissioner, and the directors of Planning and Development, Human Resources and the corporation counsel.)
Critics of the plan are expressing concern that the only qualification required of police commission candidates is that they be residents of the city.
For police officer and blogger John Bennett, no matter how many laudable provisions may be in the proposed charter, the unrestricted election of police commissioners would be cause for him to oppose it.
"I am absolutely paralyzed by what I see as bad policy on your part as it relates to your Board of Police Commissioners proposal to elect Board Members. I can't fathom what would cause you to want to do this and I have to ask among the many forums you held over the last year did you study whether this was being done in other cities and if in fact it works," he states in a message to Charter Commission members posted on his blog, Detroit Uncovered.
> Email Curt Guyette