As Flint residents get ready to vote on a new city charter, prepared after two years’ work by an elected nine-member charter review commission, EVM received two last perspectives, the one below advocating a “yes” vote, the other a “no” vote–that view, by Sally Kagerer, can be found here. Two other commentaries were posted earlier. A “yes” argument by Ashley Nickels can be found here and and a “no” argument by Eric Mays can be found here.–Ed.
By Richard and Betty Ramsdell
WHAT THE NEW CITY CHARTER CAN DO FOR YOU
Next Tuesday, we, as Flint citizens, will have the opportunity to vote on a new charter for the City of Flint. We will be asked to vote “yes” or “no.” The current charter was written 43 years ago, in 1974, when Flint was a very different city. It is old and outdated. It has, unfortunately, also been disregarded by many mayors and councils. It is time for a new governing document for our city.
WHAT THE PROPOSED CHARTER KEEPS:
The new charter keeps a Strong Mayor and Nine Wards, each represented by one council person. The Charter Commission heard loud and clear in its public meetings that the citizens of Flint wanted to keep both these institutions as the basis of a new city government. So those features do not change.
But there are features of the new charter which can make a big difference to us, as citizens of Flint.
WHAT THE PROPOSED CHARTER CHANGES AND WHAT THESE NEW FEATURES CAN MEAN FOR US:
Qualified Appointees: the new Charter requires that before a mayor makes any administrative appointments, professional qualifications for each position would need to be enshrined by ordinance and appointees would need to demonstrate that they held those qualifications.
We all know that the appointments of many past mayors have been based on favoritism, personal relationships, campaign assistance and other factors completely unrelated to qualifications for the job. This provision in the new Charter would eliminate this practice once and for all.
Improved Budget Process and Monitoring: the new Charter requires the mayor and council to agree on the city’s budget goals and to develop a working budget with public input before a formal budget is introduced. It also requires the Chief Financial Officer to report monthly to the Council and the public on the status of the budget and current spending.
Eliminate the Raiding of Sewer and Water Funds: the new Charter bars the transfer, encumbering, or borrowing from any funds that are designated for specific purposes, including federal grants and funds such as sewer and water.
Depoliticize and professionalize the City Attorney: the new Charter establishes the chief legal officer to be the city attorney for the municipal corporation of the city of Flint. It makes clear that the attorney represents the interests of the whole city and not just the mayor.
These provisions mean that our tax dollars have a chance of being spent appropriately and efficiently. We know that the mismanagement of the city’s finances has cost us dearly in the past, e.g. the Genesee Towers fiasco. And right now, because the city attorney represents the mayor, the City Council has had to hire its own attorney, at $225 per hour of our taxpayer money, to represent its position in the dispute with the mayor over whether or not to sign a 30 year water contract with Detroit.
When combined, the three provisions listed above are designed to ensure that the city’s CFO and the mayor and the council are administering the city’s finances in a professional manner. No outside Financial Manager. The new charter empowers local officials to do the job.
Empower and Grant Independence to the Office of Ombudsperson: the new Charter creates an Ethics and Accountability Board which will hire and provide support to an ombudsperson. This ombudsperson would have direct contact with the city’s citizens, would investigate their complaints, and would be empowered, along with the Ethics Board to root out any misconduct by city officials and ensure compliance with the charter. The ombudsman under the current charter never had this power. This is a significant change which is designed to support us as citizens as we hold our government accountable.
The ombudsman’s entire office would be guaranteed, by the charter, a budget of $250,000. Some critics of the new charter have already begun to argue, that in a city budget which is already strapped and which can no longer dip into the sewer and water fund, we cannot afford an extra $250,000. FYI: the budget for the city’s General Fund, although lean, is over $51 million dollars. $250,000 is less than one half of one percent of that amount. The ombudsman’s office is well worth the money. $250,000 can be found.
Expectations of City Council members: the new Charter sets behavioral expectations for council members, requires the council to write rules of procedure, and provides the ability for the council to enforce its own rules.
If we, as citizens of Flint, vote yes for the charter on August 8, the government of our city can truly begin to move forward. The new Charter provides the mechanism; we have the responsibility to elect the officials who can make it work.
Long ago, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that our government was founded on the principle: “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This proposed Charter was written in Flint, by Flint citizens, for Flint citizens. It deserves our support. Please vote “yes” next Tuesday, August 8.
Betty Ramsdell is a member of the Flint Board of Education. Dick Ramsdell is retired as the manager of the Flint Farmers’ Market and was for many years a high school teacher. They live on Kensington Street in Flint.