Charter Commissioners Must Remember the Citizens

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    As Charter Commissioners Cara J. Blount, Ken Coleman, Reggie Reg Davis, Jenice Mitchell Ford, Ken Harris, Freman Hendrix, Teola Hunter, John Johnson and Rose Mary C. Robinson prepare to go to work, we trust that Chairman Hendrix will bear in mind the words of Commissioner Coleman, who told the Chronicle during the campaign that he’d seek input from the citizens and would want no fewer than eight meetings in the community to find what Detroiters want to see in the charter.

    We agree with Coleman’s contention that an ivory tower approach to revising the charter is the wrong way to go. Paramount citizen concerns include the need to address such issues as forfeiture of office when there’s a criminal offense involved, and whether to elect all or part of the council by district. But there could be other, more day-to-day matters that, from the average citizen’s point of view, merit improving.

    Vice Chair Jenice Mitchell Ford, for example, favors clear language regarding elections. While Detroit has never had an election debacle on par with the 2000 presidential election in various communities in Florida (and probably never will, given that Detroit voters use neither the infamous hanging chads nor the “butterfly ballot”), poorly phrased ballot language – especially concerning propositions and proposals – could lead to the results being contested. Such a situation would prove costly.

    Harris has said the charter will have a profound economic impact. It very well could and the commissioners should talk not only to people like Peter Karmanos but also to those like Henry the Hatter about how the charter could be improved to help businesses in the city.

    Hendrix himself has said he’d favor an independent office of inspector general, who’d serve a 10-year term and would enforce ethics and integrity rules within the revised charter without having to owe any political favors. Hendrix also said he believes matters associated with corruption and fraud, and integrity and ethics needs to be spelled out with much greater detail and force in the charter. The inspector general idea sounds like something worth pursuing but, again, citizen input may reveal something along the same lines that would prove even better.

    All nine commissioners probably have a combined wealth of ideas on how to improve the charter, but the approximately 900,000 who live in Detroit have ideas as well. And their ideas deserve to be heard.

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