State Supreme Court agrees to consider appeal in Detroit charter revision case

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court is set to hear arguments early next month on whether Detroit's charter revision proposal should be on the ballot.

On June 4, the high court halted a decision to remove the charter revision plan from the Aug. 3 ballot. The court said it was 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.

In an order Wednesday, the court said it would consider the appeal of the Court of Appeals decision.

Carol Weaver, 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.

Oral arguments are set for July 7. The parties involved are expected to address whether the proposed revisions can be submitted to the voters without the governor’s approval.

Mark Burton, an attorney who has advocated against Detroit ballots being printed with Proposal P on behalf of the Rev. Horace Sheffield and several residents, welcomed the move.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to address the Supreme Court given the strength of our position and the well-established rules of statutory construction upon which this has been, and should be, decided," he told The Detroit News in an email Wednesday.

Detroit's Charter Revision Commission representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.

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

Proposal P has faced criticism from Mayor Mike Duggan's administration and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, both of whom 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.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said 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 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.

The high court last week dismissed a request from opponents of Proposal P that sought to keep it from appearing on the ballot. 

Last week, 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.

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