Gov. Whitmer says she won't review Detroit charter plan revisions

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Weeks after rejecting proposed changes to the Detroit city charter, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday opted not to review revisions sent to her office this month.

In a letter to the Detroit Charter Revision Commission, she said the group sent the updates both after her April 30 disapproval, which cited "legal deficiencies," and the May 11 deadline to submit ballot wording to the Detroit city clerk.

"I decline to conduct further review because of the legal questions doing so at this time could raise and because of the practical difficulties that could follow," the governor said.

Whitmer added that her decision "is consistent with my past practice. I have never reviewed a charter amendment or revision under these circumstances: where I disapproved a proposal and then received a request to review a new version after the deadline for submitting ballot wording."

In a statement Monday night, Charter Commission Chair Carol Weaver said her colleagues "do not share the understanding that we submitted the updated revised charter too late. The statute is clear that we only had to submit language for the ballot question by the deadline the Governor outlined in her letter — which we did."

Nicole Small, vice chair of the Detroit Charter Revision Commission, speaks during a press conference with community members in front of Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

The governor's rejection caps a lengthy back-and-forth over the charter plan, which resulted from three years of work by the nine-member commission.

Detroit voters impaneled the group in 2018 to address quality-of-life issues, such as water access, affordable transit, affordable housing and responsible contracting.

The Detroit Charter Revision Commission adopted its charter plan on Feb. 27. On March 5, the proposal was sent to Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel for review.

Whitmer issued a letter rejecting the plan on April 30. She concluded provisions could spark another financial crisis and return Detroit to oversight under the Financial Review Commission installed through the city's bankruptcy.

The Financial Review Commission was installed in 2014 as an oversight measure and given final say on all city budgets, collective bargaining agreements and contracts larger than $750,000. Detroit regained local control of its finances three years ago.

An analysis of the charter plan Nessel's office conducted noted the charter commission could tweak it to address objections then resubmit a modified plan for approval. The commission also could opt to submit the proposed charter to city voters for approval notwithstanding Whitmer's objections, the office said. Lamont Satchel, an attorney for the charter commission, agreed.

The commission on May 11 approved revisions including clarifying language on needing voter approval to privatize or merge Detroit's transportation services while also ensuring the city can introduce new technologies on its own.

Days later, the Detroit Election Commission in a split vote advanced Proposal P to the Aug. 3 ballot.

The August primary is the final election during the Detroit Charter Commission's term. If approved, the charter would go into effect in 2022.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia argued that placing the revised plan before voters without Whitmer's approval was unlawful.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits were filed last week against the Detroit city clerk claiming she improperly certified the ballot question.

The separate suits filed in Wayne County's Circuit Court on behalf of four plaintiffs, including three Detroit residents and the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the Detroit Election Commission from printing ballots that include Proposal P.

Attorneys representing Sheffield and another resident have claimed that under the Home Rule City Act, charter revisions must be submitted to the governor for approval or disapproval before certification.

On Thursday, Weaver issued a statement calling the lawsuits "attempts by Mayor Duggan and his circle to prevent Detroiters from having a say and voting on the revised charter that so many residents and community groups have been involved in crafting."

In her letter to the commission Monday, Whitmer said: "As to the legal effect of that decision on whether the Detroit Proposed 2021 Revised Charter can appear on the ballot for the August 3, 2021 election, I have not taken a position."

On Monday, Weaver told The News the commission was "a bit surprised that she indicated that she does not have a position on the matter of whether the revised charter initially submitted to her can be placed on the August 3rd ballot.

"In her initial feedback on the revised charter, the analysis put forth by the Attorney General's office made it clear that a revised charter does not need the Governor's approval to be placed on the ballot."