Detroit ballots going out with Proposal P, but its fate is unknown

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Absentee ballots begin going out Saturday with a controversial proposal to revise the city's charter, but the Michigan Supreme Court could change its fate. 

The high court on June 4 halted a lower court's decision to toss a charter revision plan off Detroit's Aug. 3 ballot. The supreme court in recent days noted it's still reviewing whether to take up or expedite a challenge to a state Court of Appeals opinion that affirmed a Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that the plan, Proposal P, shouldn't be on the ballot.

The high court on Wednesday dismissed a request from parties opposed to Proposal P that sought to keep it from appearing on the ballot. 

The initiative, crafted by Detroit's Charter Revision Commission, seeks permanent charter changes. The plan was developed in part by the Detroiters' Bill of Rights Coalition. The group, comprised of environmental, immigrant and disability advocates, along with housing, water and transit experts seek to embed "fundamental human and civil rights" in the charter. 

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.

Proposal P has faced criticism from Mayor Mike Duggan's administration and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who both have warned that the costs of implementing the charter provisions would send the city back in to bankruptcy and prompt active oversight by its Financial Review Commission.

Earlier this week, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey told The News Proposal P is being printed on the ballots, but should the high court rule against the proposal, it's up to her office to correct the issue.

Winfrey said they would either have to re-print the ballots before the in-person August election or program machines to discredit the votes.

Detroit's top financial officials initially estimated the revisions would cost $3.4 billion over four years, then $2 billion, after charter commissioners made revisions to the plan. CFO Jay Rising's office has said if the revised charter is approved in August, as drafted, the city's four-year financial plan will no longer be balanced.

The nine-member commission spent three years drafting the proposal which covers expanded access to public transportation and broadband internet, water affordability, increased transparency, accountability and policing reforms.

Whitmer rejected the plan on April 30 and Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia argued that placing it before voters without Whitmer's approval was unlawful. Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits were filed in May against Winfrey claiming she improperly certified the ballot question.

City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López and Charter Commissioner Denzel McCampbell have advocated for the high court to hear the case.

"This charter is setting up the structure and a priority for the city," McCampbell has said. "This is not a document that mandates spending, that's up to the mayor's office and the city council, but we did meet together with many other community members to ensure that we had the document that was answering the needs of our residents that was confronting the problems that our folks are facing."

On Tuesday night, the Detroit Charter Commission passed a resolution to put the original version on the ballot, "without change or amendment." The commission previously made revisions to address issues pointed out by Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, but stated the governor declined to review the updated version.

As a result, the commission voted Tuesday to confirm a Feb. 27 draft of the proposal to be considered by voters as "Proposal P," said Lamont Satchel, an attorney for the charter commission.

The commission is now working on its citywide education and outreach campaign to inform voters.

Former Detroit City Councilmember Sheila Cockrel said she's participated in charter revision proceedings since 1997 and called the actions of the commission unprecedented.  

"For the last six weeks, they promised voters they were revising the charter to fix the legal problems and (Tuesday night) they failed to make a single change,” said Cockrel, noting if the plan passes "someone is going to litigate it against the city."

Earlier this week, Winfrey's office was working to correct a mailing issue after a batch of absentee voter applications went out with a Texas return address.

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

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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