Fearing being left in the dark, Detroiters swarm Charter Commission meetings
Detroit — In its third meeting Saturday, the Detroit Charter Revision commissioners found themselves feuding over bylaws and meeting minutes, showing a deep distrust of each other that was echoed by the residents who turned out for the meeting.
Fearing they would be left in the dark, more than 200 people on Saturday filled the Samaritan Center on the city's east side, bringing their concerns and their anger.
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The City Charter defines how the city government is structured, its powers andresponsibilities. It operates within the framework established by the U.S. Constitution and Michigan Constitution.
The nine members of the Charter Revision Commission, elected in November to oversee a three-year revision of the charter, fought each other on nearly every agenda item.
"Hundreds of people have packed these meetings because, like me, they want to stay engaged," said Byron Osbern, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the commission. "When I was running, people would tell me their worries, and lots of them are paranoid and they have a reason to be.
"People here don't want to be left in the dark," said Osbern, who lives in the Boston Edison district. "They are engaged because they don't want to see Detroit snatched from their fingers."
During the meeting, many residents who attended the meetings the commission has already held, called the relationship between Chairwoman Carol Weaver and Vice Chairwoman Nicole Small a "small bloodbath."
Attendees listened raptly as commissioners amended a $200,000 budget not yet approved. When the residents weren't busy snatching proposed copies of budgets out of Commissioner Barbara Anne Wynder's hands, they yelled out their disapproval before the public comment portion.
The meeting began so hectically, Weaver addressed the public saying: "I ask for your patience as we learn our roles and responsibilities. We want to work with you, hear from you as we are asked to draft a Detroit City Charter."
Commission members could not immediately be reached after the meeting Saturday.
Originally, the charter was created and revised by the Legislature until many were fed up with corruption. In 1918, voters adopted the city's first Home Rule charter. The 42-member legislative body was replaced with a strong mayor form of government, a City Council and nine partisan at-large members.
The city charter last was amended and adopted in 2012. It included more than 140 revisions.
Wendy Caldwell, a District 7 resident, told commissioners that she hopes the charter considers updates to the city's master plan.
"As a planner by profession, I know the development of the city is an ongoing goal and it can't be kept up without updates, and Detroit's master plan isn't current," she said. "People feel uninformed at meetings like this, and updating the plan could make an improvement."
Valerie Burris, who lives in the North Goldberg community, said she attends the meetings as a watchdog and hopes the commission will focus on the lack of investment in distressed neighborhoods.
The community on Detroit's west side is bound by the Lodge and Interstate 94 expressways, West Grand Boulevard and Grand River, according to a neighborhood website, theneighborhoods.org/neighborhoods/nw-goldberg.
"We didn't want to see the charter open at all, but this is our constitution and how we are going to be governed and frankly, I don't think people who don't live in the city for less than four years should be running for any office," said Burris, 58. "I'd like to see more power restored to the neighborhoods. These days, it's like seven neighborhoods have been picked to be saved and the rest of us are sacrificed."