Saturday, March 26, 2011
by: Jacqueline Bejma
Saturday's meeting of the charter revision commission began with what was expected to be a brief disposition session of items related to last Tuesday's proposal for Corporation Counsel.
The meeting took an unexpected turn nearly before it began, when during public comment, a member of City Council's Research and Analysis Division took a few minutes to present a memo the group had prepared in response to the proposed new language.
Commissioner Ford suspended the rules and allowed a 5 minute presentation and also allowed the Mayor's law department to have 5 minutes to address the proposed language.
City council takes exception to the language that they feel precludes them from seeking outside counsel. In fact, this new language does not do that, but seeks to clarify that if outside counsel is chosen, it must be from outside the City government. In other words, it must be from an independent law firm. It would also seek to clarify the idea that if corporation counsel is the attorney for the City of Detroit, then any agent of the City (i.e. Mayor, City Council, City Clerk) that represents the best legal interests of the City will be represented by Corporation Counsel.
The mayor's office brought much clarity to the real motivation behind the objections, explaining that it has become common practice for City Council to solicit many legal opinions, ultimately listing it's own Research and Analysis Division as their attorney on pleadings and conducting closed-door meetings on certain items, claiming attorney-client confidentiality (and discussing items that are then not subject to the Open Meetings Act or FOIA). This is allowing city council to work outside of the City's law department and exclusive of the executive branch, without transparency for citizens.
In the end, the Corporation Counsel discussion took nearly two hours, with all items being referred back to staff for additional editing.
The meeting then moved to a discussion session where commissioners voted 6-2 to eliminate the Office of the Ombudsman, stating that most citizens have complained of the office's lack of action and noting that the Ombudsman himself has said the Office does not have a budget that allows them to resolve complaints.
Commissioner Meyers Phillips presented some proposed language related to the functions of the Ombudsman and meant to replace what currently exists in Section 4-113, the Prohibition on Interference. This item will be presented more formally at the next meeting, but Phillips is seeking to:
give City Council access to information about citizen issues and complaints that are being submitted to and retained by the executive branch;
give City Council the ability to compel resolution of unresolved complaints;
give City Council the ability to create it's own complaint resolution wing via ordinance;
allow City Council to direct various department heads and employees to resolve citizen issues and complaints.
The Commission next discussed the number of districts for the new draft charter. After several months of waiting for this topic to be discussed, Commissioners disposed of it somewhat quickly, utilizing reports provided by staff to determine that the new draft charter will have 7 district seats and 2 at-large seats.
Finally, the Commission prepared to move into a discussion of City Departments and Services. Commissioners were directed to come to the next meeting with proposed language for any department changes they would like to see made, taking into account the 100+ recommendations that were provided during stakeholder meetings in Phase 1 and 2 of the revision process.
The Commission is not on track to finish this process in the estimated time. Thus, they have agreed to meet every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday until April 30, ending sooner if all items are disposed of.
DETCharter would like to host some community forums or roundtable discussions on the impact the charter revisions will have on the citizens of Detroit. If you are interested in participating, please contact us!
Please keep in mind that this draft charter will be up for public vote November 8, 2011!
Next Meeting: Thursday, March 31, 6:00 p.m., Location To Be Announced **PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS AN ADDITIONAL MEETING THAT HAS NOT BEEN ON THE SCHEDULE**blog comments powered by Disqus