Thursday, June 11, 2009

Our Response to Criticism of Charter Revision Process is to be Careful Whom Detroit Elects to the Charter Revision Commission and as City Clerk!

The Michigan Citizen recently ran an article entitled "Charter Election Illegal?" in which the author, Diane Bukowski, and a Detroit resident, Joyce Moore, question whether or not the process by which the Charter Commission was placed on the ballot complies with the Michigan Home Rule City Act and the relevant Detroit City Charter provisions. Ms. Moore, who happens to be running for the office of Detroit City Clerk against incumbent Janice Winfrey and Michael Stephen Ri'chard (a fact that should have been reported by the Citizen in the interests of good journalism and full disclosure) accuses the City Council and the Clerk of "overruling the Charter." She and other unnamed "vocal community leaders" claim that Charter section 9-403 says that the only time the question of a Charter Revision may be put to the voters is a gubernatorial election year, and as a result, that the May 5 ballot question, Proposal C, is invalid. This conclusion is just plain not correct and relies on a completely incorrect reading of both the Charter and the state law. Ms. Bukowski & Ms. Moore both fail to understand statutory interpretation. The sentence from the Charter section 9-403 that describes when a question of when the Charter shall be revised and that is quoted in the Citizen article ends with "and may be submitted as other times as provided by law." This is the very language on which the Detroit City Council correctly relied, in addition to the complementary provisions of Section 118 of the Home Rule City Act, in passing the resolution to place the question of Charter Revision on the May 5 Special Election ballot.

Ms. Moore and her supporters claim that the Charter provision in 9-403 and the words "...unless otherwise provided by a charter..." in Section 18 of the Home Rule City Act conflict. If they did, Ms. Moore's claim that the Charter provisions would allow Detroit to vote on a charter revision at the 2010 gubernatorial primary would be totally incorrect, if her reading of the statues were correct, that would mean that the City of Detroit could not create a new Charter Revision Commission until 2018, or every 4th gubernatorial primary thereafter. This reading of the Michigan Law and the Charter is very badly confused. The only possible logical reading of the inclusion in the Charter of the words "and may be submitted at other times as provided by law" is that the Charter clearly permits other legal means of instituting a Charter Revision process and therefore, since the Council followed the requirements of Section 118 of the Michigan Home Rule City Act in placing Proposal C on the ballot, the Current Charter Reform Process is not illegal and the arguments of Ms. Moore and Ms. Bukowski fail on this point.

This fact should be very important to Detroit voters because Ms. Moore was a member of the Charter Revision Commission in 1996, and 13 years later, she is still not reading the Charter correctly. She is also running for City Clerk, and above all things, it is the job of the City Clerk to be able to read and comply with the Charter. Is Ms. Moore really against Charter Reform, or is it possible that she stirred up this controversy to get some traction against the incumbent Clerk? We can never know for sure.

Let this little incident be an advisory to Detroit voters, PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT THE PEOPLE WHOM YOU ELECT TO THE CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION HAVE THE SKILLS & ABILITIES NEEDED TO CORRECTLY READ THE CHARTER & RELATED STATE LAWS. And while you are at it, make sure that your choice for City Clerk knows how to read the Charter, too. Competence is a beautiful thing in an elected official, let's make sure we get more of that in Detroit soon!

Tonya Myers Phillips is Running for the Charter Commission


Tonya Phillips, Esq. is an attorney with a passion for using her legal talent to improve her community. She is a small business owner, founding Vision Legal Services P.L.L.C. in 2004 to represent small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals. Ms. Phillips provides legal services to a number of institutions including ShoreBank Enterprises, the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, and the Detroit Entrepreneurship Institute. Ms. Phillips regularly sits on small business and community panels to share her expertise with the community.

Ms. Phillips has experience working with municipal law and the Charter in particular. She worked with the Detroit City Council and its Special Counsel William Goodman to analyze and interpret the Council's removal and forfeiture powers under the Detroit City Charter. Ms. Phillips also worked with a the Guild Law Center and the Detroit City Council to strengthen the investigatory and enforcement provisions of the Detroit Living Wage Ordinance which mandates workers be paid a "living wage" for the services on high-value city contracts.

Tonya Phillips was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Ms. Phillips attended Detroit Public Schools and graduated with honors from Renaissance High School. Ms. Phillips received her bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of Michigan. She also went on to attend and receive her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Ms. Phillips was honored with the Distinguished Young Lawyer Award in 2006 from the Wolverine Bar Association.

Ms. Phillips currently serves as the Secretary of the Wolverine Bar Association, and sits on the Board of Directors for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, the Village Gardeners, and People Actively Taking Chance to Help Educate Society (P.A.T.C.H.E.S), and is a member of the Detroit Branch NAACP.

Contact: 313-779-9357