Flint voters will be asked to vote Aug. 8 on whether to approve a new charter for the city. As Paul Rozycki explained in his July column in EVM, the current city’s charter was last revised in 1974, when Flint’s population was nearly 200,000 and there were still 80,000 well paid GM jobs in the county. The nine elected charter commission members, chaired by Cleora Magee, have been at work for two years, and have developed a 77-page document which, despite active efforts by the commission in forums and social media blasts, has received relatively little attention. In particular, as Eric Mays notes below, the “no” vote position has been relatively quiet. Mays, First Ward council person, is one who has expressed reservations about the proposed charter revision, and offered his views here — transcribed from an in-person interview on Wednesday, July 26. A commentary offering a different view is available here.
What follows are Rozycki’s capsules of several proposed changes, followed by Mays’ commentary. For example:
— Restructure executive departments to require departments of law, human resources and finance and allow the mayor to create another five departments for a total of eight. The mayor would also be allowed to appoint up to five additional members of his or her executive staff.
— Create a panel to enforce and define ethical behavior for city employees.
–Require clear statement of qualifications expected of city employees.
— Reinvigorate, empower and grant independence to the Office of Ombudsman, which has not been active for years.
Mays: I think they went overboard in some areas, particularly when it comes to appointed people, even the ombudsman structure having the authority to enforce and remove from office elected people, that’s a major fundamental difference with democracy… When it comes to the appointment of these people with that authority…you’re giving appointed people more authority.
The charter as it stands now allows people to take folks to court – you can petition the Circuit Court to enforce the charter – I don’t think you need appointed people with super authority to enforce the charter and attempt to remove elected officials. I just don’t see that as a democracy.
Mays says the present charter is “crafted masterfully,” a victim of bad implementation, not bad design.
The charter as it stands now is well structured, and even in the area of ethics it allows for the council or the legislative body to create law, ordinances, if you read the section of the charter dealing with ethics right now. So that means that the council people in certain positions have not created a strong ethics law under this well-crafted document – the present charter.
So everything that I look at that they’re bragging about is pretty much already crafted masterfully in the original document and this crowd kind of believe in their mind that they have something new. But some of the things that they put together are already there, it’s just that certain elected officials, particularly the council that had a role to enforce the charter, did not do what the charter dictated that they should have done and no citizen was smart enough or knowledgeable enough of the charter to petition the Circuit Court and enforce the charter.
The document has everything that they’re boasting and bragging about already and they’re not telling people that it’s already there. They used this charter in order to craft these so-called new things, but they really had all the stuff in there, even the part about the qualifications of the appointed people that they boast about. That’s already in the charter in the personnel section. The council before they made an appointment had a duty to look at the personnel section and make sure they were qualified.
Even in this present charter, it says any appointed person should have the same qualifications as the mayor, meaning you should be a registered voter in the city of Flint, and so I would question this new crowd, do they understand that not only should you have certain degrees and certificates and council has the duty to interview you rather than just rubber stamp an appointment? Do they understand that some people believe that an appointed person can live in a 20-mile radius based on state law, so you could be a city administrator or city attorney or chief of staff in an appointed position and live outside the city of Flint? I believe that the charter tells you that within 60 days of your appointment you must have the same qualifications as the mayor. Nobody has tried to enforce this and the residents have not petitioned the Circuit Court.
It’s an intelligence-of-the-elected-official issue, as well as the intelligence-of-the-residents issue to really know the current charter and to really use the tools available to enforce the well-crafted document.
Funding ombudsman’s office might take money from police and fire
This [new] document that’s been crafted now has a lot of flaws and loopholes that can cause more legal problems – even financial. The mandate as it relates to $250,000 to fund the ombudsman’s. office, some might argue that you got only one place to take that from — would be police and fire, and some would argue that I don’t want to take away from public safety because right now you’re spending three or four hours trying to get a police to answer your call, and so they’re using what residents have already voted on twice.
Ongoing state control makes the new charter proposals moot, he says
The ombudsman is the hook, their selling point — the ombudsman is already in the charter, but what people don’t understand is the reason that the ombudsman is not funded and working now and won’t be funded and working under the new charter is because as long we’re under state receivership with the transition advisory board that the emergency manager system ordered in place, it’s reality — it keeps you from being able to fund and operate the ombudsman, so they’re selling the people that we’ll vote on this and we’ll have a super ombudsman, but you just won’t see it — until a year after the RTAB until the EM order under state law disappears. And there is no timeline for when the RTAB disappears.
Charter Commission was “being used politically,” Mays claims
The emergency managers and others in my opinion facilitated putting the charter commission in place, and they were pushing for a manager form of government and that was in my opinion their major thrust, but now that they’re gone and people are being charged and the water crisis has hit, the charter revision commission didn’t go to a manager form of government so this group didn’t really know how they were being used politically to tamper with that well-crafted document, and so they have just put some things together and are boasting on stuff and trying to sell it to the people that it won’t really appear for the people because of the EM law.
Finally…you don’t really have a vocal “no” group – the old charter members haven’t come out. You’ve got people who’ve been around who don’t know the current charter. People have a tendency just to vote for change, but these changes ain’t gonna really be able to be implemented.
–Eliminate raiding of water funds, require a more structured and open budgeting process, better budget monitoring, and improved estimates of city revenues.
–Create an assistance program to provide for more affordable water and sewer fees.
–Mandate a transparent accounting of water funds.
— Require voter approval before city assets are privatized.
Charter Commission “playing on people’s emotions” about the water crisis
They (the charter commission) played on people’s passions when they put something in there about water rates – that’s a play on passion and it kind of appalls me, because they’re using current issues about the current makeup of the council and they’re using that water piece in the charter like you can’t really dip into the water fund – well, that’s governed by state law, it’s illegal to do it in the first place. But the city council who are in place – it still would be a city council responsibility in this new charter, to subpoena information, hold investigative hearings and put people under oath and stop that – you don’t have to file lawsuits when you exercise the power of your investigative power, which is one of council’s greatest powers. So if they [the Charter commission] thought somebody was dipping into the water fund now or then, you don’t have to put those specific emotional pieces into the charter, because some of those same elected folks will still be the guardians and trusts of the water fund in the city. They’re playing on people’s emotions, in my opinion.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson conducted and transcribed this interview. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.