Citizen Planning Councils
Full Report (pdf)
By: Jacqueline Bejma
For the past year, I have been following the Detroit Charter Revision Commission with great interest. Detroit is faced with many challenges, and the revision of the City's charter has the potential to create a framework for real, systemic change in Detroit. I've been inspired to co-found detcharter.com as a resource for the community to learn about the revision process and to comment on what happens at commission meetings.
The most obvious and impactful work of the Commission is to address city council members elected by districts (the City currently elects all members at-large). Commissioner Meyers Phillips has taken the idea of districts to another level in her proposals; Meyers Phillips suggests that not only council members, but members of the Police, Fire, Planning and Economic Development commissions and departments also be elected by district, or be required to attend monthly district meetings in order to better engage with and respond to the concerns and needs of their specific communities.
I wholeheartedly support Commissioner Meyers Phillips in this endeavor. Given the expansive and diverse land areas, uses and challenges presented by the City of Detroit, this is a way to make our government truly accountable and create a deeper understanding of each community and its needs while addressing the omnipresent issues of community voice, inclusion and input that are missing in our City.
City council and commissions by district can work if the Charter Revision Commission is thoughtful and diligent in crafting a system where true community representation and involvement can be achieved. I would caution the Commission to be very careful in deciding how district representatives are chosen, however.
It is clear that many of the community’s recommendations presented during the Charter Conventions in November and December 2010 are a reaction to events in our City’s past – both our executive and legislative branches have proved eminently corruptible – and our residents’ distrust of government is palpable.
While I support district representation, I caution against the sole use of appointments. New York City’s Community Board system is very similar to what Commissioner Meyers Phillips has proposed. The community boards are used in the New York City charter as a way to expedite greater community involvement, but in practice, often do not achieve that goal. Members of New York’s community boards are all appointed by one person – the Borough President – which often results in a board that is not representative of their community at all, and entrenched networks have developed.
I am proposing a system of district representation that calls for a combination of elected officials, appointees and the incorporation of a new iteration of Detroit’s defunct Community Advisory Councils that will allow communities to be fairly and equitably represented and give them a voice in the future of their district.
My proposal is for the creation of 9-member Citizen Planning Councils that would be comprised of the following:
-(1)District City Council member (elected – acts as government liaison)
-(1)City Planning Commission member, to be renamed District Planner (city council appointment, by district – provides technical expertise to the community to assist in the creation and implementation of community-based plans in conjunction with Planning & Development Department)
-(1)Economic Development Department member (hired by Economic Development Director, by district– provides technical expertise to create and implement plans in conjunction with mayor’s office)
-(1)Human Rights Commission member (mayoral appointment-provides technical assistance and acts as liaison with Police, Fire, and Public Works)
-(5) Citizen Commission Members (elected in each district in the general municipal election-represents community needs)
A memo detailing this proposal will be submitted to the Charter Revision Commission for their consideration.