Is Char­ter Com­mis­sion ready to serve?

The Detroit News - - OPINIONS -

It was a given that most in the au­di­ence at the North­west Ac­tiv­i­ties Cen­ter on De­troit’s west side want to see an ev­i­dently in­clu­sive city. But the po­lit­i­cal the­atrics on dis­play last Thurs­day at the De­troit Char­ter Com­mis­sion meet­ing will not pass the muster of a po­lit­i­cal check and bal­ance against the Dug­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion.

If all nine mem­bers of the com­mis­sion want to gain in­flu­ence on the re­cov­ery and bal­ance the eco­nomic pen­du­lum, they will have to show that they can match the po­lit­i­cal heft of the driv­ers of the cur­rent nar­ra­tive of the re­cov­ery. They will have to demon­strate that they are not only elected of­fi­cials, but also cu­ri­ous stu­dents of the mech­a­nisms of mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment. Be­cause with­out an ed­u­cated un­der­stand­ing of gover­nance and the in­ner work­ings of De­troit gov­ern­ment, they will be let­ting down the throng of peo­ple who showed up re­li­giously to sup­port them.

For al­most an hour, the com­mis­sion’s first pub­lic meet­ing of 2019 fo­cused on in­ter­nal op­er­a­tions and house­keep­ing is­sues, which took away from more sub­stan­tive mat­ters re­gard­ing the char­ter, the gover­nance doc­u­ment for city gov­ern­ment. From ar­gu­ing about how their by­laws were writ­ten (in­clud­ing how it re­port­edly lacked in­put of all nine mem­bers), squab­bling over meet­ing dates, to the minu­tiae of who sent who an email and at what time, the meet­ing was chaotic.

There was a lot of bit­ter­ness, anger, cyn­i­cism, ap­pre­hen­sion and deep dis­trust of each other on the com­mis­sion. Though there is un­der­stand­able re­sent­ment about where things are, it shouldn’t jus­tify a dis­rup­tive meet­ing. It wasn’t the room you will find heal­ing in, given the state of the city, and the need to up­lift the counter-nar­ra­tive of the lack of in­vest­ment in dis­tressed neigh­bor­hoods.

More dis­ap­point­ing was the fact that Carol Weaver, the chair­woman of the com­mis­sion, didn’t seem pre­pared. She ap­peared to dis­play a lack of un­der­stand­ing of sim­ple par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dures at the stand­ing-room-only meet­ing. It was clear that more study and read­ing is needed to un­der­stand the rules and deco­rum re­quired of such a pub­lic body.

I don’t be­lieve the com­mis­sion­ers have bad in­ten­tions for the city. Each of them may have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives about where De­troit ought to be. But re­gard­less of their in­di­vid­ual po­si­tions on the re­cov­ery, they should be able to dis­agree pro­duc­tively rather than merely look­ing for dirt on each other to win au­di­ence ap­plause. That is not an ef­fec­tive way to get any­thing done. De­spite their po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, they should re­spect each other as fel­low com­mis­sion­ers in­stead of shout­ing.

Even when the bud­get came up and com­mis­sioner Tracy Peters stated there was no money to be­gin with, they spent lit­tle time talk­ing about that and in­stead con­tin­ued to ar­gue fe­ro­ciously about by­laws. In­stead of sim­ply mak­ing a mo­tion to amend the by­laws to re­flect their wishes and move on, the meet­ing con­tin­ued to de­volve to chaotic in­fight­ing.

“It was a great turnout, which is a good thing. But the sad thing is that on the first step of a great turnout, you have so much cat­fight­ing and jostling,” said lo­cal min­is­ter Mau­rice L. Hard­wick, known in the com­mu­nity as Pas­tor Moe. “They need to get to­gether and rec­og­nize the big­ger is­sue and the role that they were elected to play for Detroi­ters.”

Dion Wil­liams, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, said mem­bers should be bet­ter pre­pared.

“If you ran to re­vise the char­ter, you should have done your due dili­gence and know what it is that you want to do and your ar­eas of in­ter­est,” Wil­liams said. “What you had at the meet­ing was peo­ple sit­ting on the com­mis­sion who can’t agree on the sim­plest things, and don’t un­der­stand the Robert Rules of Or­der.”

I do not sub­scribe to the be­lief that ac­tivists who run for of­fice can­not suc­cess­fully tran­si­tion to be­com­ing ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tors. But they have to be strate­gic and as­tute enough to be able to win oth­ers to their side, es­pe­cially if they don’t have the votes to re­frame the char­ter the way they see it.

I still have in­fi­nite hope in the com­mis­sion, be­cause this is the sec­ond of many meet­ings to come in a three-year re­vi­sion process.

BANKOLE THOMP­SON

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