Eastpointe explores city council election changes

The Detroit News

Eastpointe officials are expected Thursday to showcase proposed changes to how local voters elect City Council members — including redrawing a district in a way to give African-Americans a stronger chance to elect a minority candidate.

A news conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. at City Hall to discuss the overhaul, which comes after the U.S. Department of Justice recently recommended Eastpointe set aside its current at-large method of electing City Council members for a geographic district-style voting system. The new process “would give voters the opportunity to select a candidate from the district in which they reside” officials said in a statement Wednesday.

The proposed changes won’t affect the mayor position, which will continue to be filled on an at-large basis.

Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane said although black residents haven’t formally expressed concerns about the at-large voting process for the city council, Eastpointe is working to update how elected officials are selected.

“There’s never been any intent on the part of Eastpointe to discriminate against any candidate seeking office,” he said. “However, the Department of Justice is asking us to adopt something that is more in line with the federal Voting Rights Act at a time when our demographics have significantly changed since 1929, when our current at-large system was adopted.”

Adopted in 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act “prohibits any voting practice or procedure that results in a denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race.” Federal data shows African-Americans accounts for about 34 percent of the total voting-age population in the city.

According to U.S. Census data, there were 12,745 blacks living in Eastpointe in 2014 compared with 1,594 in 2000.

Many communities in Michigan use an at-large system for selecting elected officials, but some cities have adopted a district form of choosing council members.

The mayor and City Council are seeking opinions from residents on pursuing the council changes.

Duchane said the mayor, council and city attorney plan to discuss the issue Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 before deciding what action to take.

The proposed changes also coincide with a coalition of Detroit pastors this week issuing what they are calling a “travel warning” for blacks to avoid the city after an African-American man alleged he was beaten unconscious by several officers while in police custody last year.

Leaders said they were meeting with John McNeilance, the Eastpointe Department of Public Safety director, Thursday at the city hall.

Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley has said the police department does not discriminate against blacks and it isn’t necessary for them to stay away from the city.