Detroit council seat to remain vacant until November

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday decided it won't fill the seat vacated by indicted member Gabe Leland.

Detroit's now eight-member council unanimously agreed it will leave Leland's District 7 seat open until city voters cast ballots in November. 

The decision caps a two-week debate over how and when to proceed with appointing a new member to finish out Leland's unexpired term. The councilman resigned earlier this month after pleading guilty in state court to misconduct in office charges. 

Gabe Leland, (foreground), and other members of the Detroit City Council are in attendance for the morning council meeting.

After an hour of discussion Tuesday, efforts to adopt a nominated process failed. Ultimately, District 3 Councilman Scott Benson proposed a motion to appoint the certified winner of the Nov. 2 general election. The winner will immediately take office, finishing Leland's term, which ends Dec. 31, 2021. The new member will then assume office Jan. 1, 2022, for the new, four-year term, the council decided.

For now, staff members of the offices of Council President Brenda Jones and fellow at-large councilmember Janeé Ayers will provide support to Leland's remaining staff.

Jones will also appoint an administrator to handle the day-to-day operations of District 7 and address needs of the district's constituents, but no timeline was set Tuesday.

Leland, 38, stepped down on May 3 just after he pleaded guilty in Wayne County Circuit Court to one count of misconduct in office. The councilman was accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 in cash for his 2017 reelection campaign and free car repairs from a Detroit businessman in exchange for his vote on a controversial land deal. As a component of the plea deal, a federal indictment on bribery charges is expected to be dismissed. Leland isn't expected to face jail time on the five-year felony when he's sentenced June 7. 

Six well-known candidates are vying in the August primary for the west-side City Council seat.

Former state representative Fred Durhal III and school teacher Regina Ross join Detroit Charter Commissioner JoAnna Underwood, community organizer Angy Webb, police commissioner William Davis and former police officer John Bennett in the Aug. 3 race to represent Detroit's District 7. Half of the contenders have battled for the seat in prior election cycles, some more than once. 

Davis attended council's session on Tuesday, noting he'd attended the district's Community Advisory Council meeting on Sunday and contends the decision to not fill the seat "is not a good look."

"At the (Sunday) meeting, the vast majority of people there indicated they want representation soon," Davis said. "I'd advocate someone get in the position to represent District 7 as soon as possible and it should not be someone that's already on the ballot."

"The vast majority of people would tell you they want someone in the position and should not have to wait until after November because people throughout the 13th Congressional District still complain about the fact they had no representation for a long period of time when John Conyers stepped down," Davis added. 

Jones noted Tuesday that she made the decision based on communication from district residents by phone and email.

Bobbi Johnson, vice president of District 7's Community Advisory Council, told the council that while residents want representation, it can wait.

"We want someone that is going to represent the whole district and right now, we have an election. We don't want anyone to have an unfair advantage," Johnson said. "We have two at-large (council members) that can handle our business until we have someone that will come into office and the people have spoken and decided who they have wanted."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_