Detroit union workers, activists urge support for Proposal P

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Labor and community groups rallied Thursday in support of a controversial city ballot proposal that will have its legality decided by the state's high court. 

The People’s Charter for a Better Detroit Prop P Campaign gathered at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 58 on Abbot in Corktown, the city's oldest neighborhood, to encourage Detroiters to vote yes on Aug. 3.

The charter amendment initiative, called Proposal P, was crafted over three years by a nine-member Detroit Charter Revision Commission. The coalition argues the plan, opposed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's administration, refocuses the goals of city government with a greater emphasis on quality of life issues including affordable water and transit, increased oversight and policing reforms.

Brian Richard (center), business manager, IBEW Local 58, speaks during a rally in Detroit on Thursday, June 24, 2021  at their downtown union hall as they met with organizers and volunteers about promoting Proposal P.

“I don't know how anyone disagrees with the proposal, it's common sense,” said Brian Richard, IBEW Local 58 business manager, highlighting how the proposal encourages hiring more local contractors. " P stands for progress for the people of the city."

The city began sending out absentee ballots on Saturday with the proposal listed.

But, the Michigan Supreme Court could change its fate. The high court recently halted the plan's removal from the city's ballot despite rulings from the state Court of Appeals and Wayne County's Circuit Court that it should not go before voters. 

The high court barred Prop P from being taken off the ballot while it weighed whether to entertain an appeal. The supreme court is now set to hear arguments in the case early next month.

Activists at Thursday's event reiterating that the proposal was crafted with more than 500 recommendations by 300 organizations in the city.

District 6 Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López said the proposal supports the creation of a Disability Rights Coalition, protection of immigrant rights and refugees, and it redefines what affordable means in the city. 

"It brought together folks who really understand what safety means, folks from the Black Lives Matter movement to folks within Detroit Action, who are looking at how we can reform our police department, how we can invest in things to prevent crime and give the people the economic opportunity and aren't stuck in low-wage jobs," Castañeda-López said. "About 80% of Wayne County (average median income) is not affordable in the city of Detroit so we worked to embed in the charter an AMI definition that would be based on resident's income and not on the county."

Detroit councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez (center) addresses a crowd during a rally in Detroit on Thursday, June 24, 2021 IBEW Local 58 union hall as they met with organizers and volunteers about promoting Proposal P.

City Council recently passed a resolution in support of reparations, but Castañeda-López said council members can’t support reparations without supporting Proposal P.

“It’s frightening that we have the mayor's administration and even the governor, folks who are not from the city originally, that fundamentally do not understand how systemic oppression impacts the city," she contends. 

Proposal P has faced criticism from Duggan and his administration as well as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. All 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.

The mayor's office did not have an immediate comment on Thursday. 

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 charter commission disagrees and estimates that the plan could cost $7 million a year to implement.

Attorney General Dana Nessel pointed out illegalities in the proposal that would restructure Detroit's deal with the Great Lakes Regional Water Authority, conflicts with contracting sections of the plan, authority over adjustment of utility rates, residency requirements and a relief program for homeowners who were over-assessed on their property tax bills.

Whitmer rejected the charter amendment plan on April 30 and Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia has 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.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey has 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 those votes.

Two lawsuits were filed in May against Winfrey claiming she improperly certified the ballot question.

Early last week, the charter commission passed a resolution to put its original version on the ballot, "without change or amendment." The commission previously made revisions to address issues pointed out by Whitmer and Nessel, but stated the governor declined to review the updated version.

As a result, the commission voted June 15 to confirm a Feb. 27 draft of the proposal to be considered by voters as "Proposal P," Lamont Satchel, an attorney for the charter commission, has said. 

Satchel on Thursday reiterated his position that the charter is legal. 

"Everybody with the responsibility to make sure that this city is fiscally responsible and abdicated that responsibility, and everyone is coming to the floor to argue the sky is falling, the sky is falling," he said. "Well my response to that is don't believe it, look up."

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

Twitter: @SarahRahal_