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Posted on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Ypsilanti Charter Commission to propose non-partisan elections

By Tom Perkins

Ypsilanti voters will be asked to consider approving non-partisan elections.

The Ypsilanti Charter Commission recently voted 6-2 to include proposing changing elections from partisan to non-partisan as part of a larger charter revision.

The commission has been meeting for nearly a year and only made what commissioners characterize as “housekeeping changes” until this point. All the changes will be rolled into one revision which voters will be asked to approve or reject in what officials expect will be the Nov. 2012 election.

The charter commission has one more public meeting on Dec. 15 before the language is submitted to the State's Attorney General’s office for approval. City Clerk Frances McMullan said she expects that process to take up to four months.

In the November 2010 elections, Ypsilanti residents voted 2,083 to 1,985 to establish a charter commission for a general rewrite of the city's charter. The charter was rewriten in 1994, and, per the charter, the question of whether it should be revised must be put in front of voters every 16 years.

The commission is made up of four republicans and four democrats, and the city is largely democratic. The charter commission's democrats are Cheryl Farmer, John Gawlas, James Hawkins, Robert Doyle and William Fennel. Republicans Karen Quinlan-Valvo, James Fink, Peter Fletcher and Kim Porter-Hoppe serve.

Several commissioners said at the time of the November 2010 election that they didn’t feel there needed to be any major changes to the charter, though anyone around the issue agrees that changing to non-partisan elections is a major proposal.

Former Mayor Farmer, who helped craft the 1994 charter, and Gwalas were the lone votes against the proposed change. Fennel was not present. Hawkins, Quinlan-Vlavo, Fink, Doyle, Fletcher and Porter-Hoppe voted for the change.

Charter Commission chair Porter-Hoppe said Ypsilanti is one of three cities - including Ionia and Ann Arbor - in the state that still have partisan elections.

She said that the charter commission election was non-partisan and she believes the Republicans elected to the board likely wouldn’t have been if it were partisan elections.

“Often, when there’s just one party in charge or in control of winning elections, it’s impossible for people on other side of the aisle to win,” she said.

She said she previously served on elected, non-partisan boards and they functioned well.

“It’s up to the informed voter to find out about the candidates and make an informed decision,” she said.

Farmer said she voted against the proposal because there didn’t appear to be any issues with how elections are currently run.

“It seemed to me like the system was working,” she said. “I didn’t think we needed to make any big changes. I thought tweaks were probably all we needed to do.”

But Farmer added that non-partisan elections seem to be working well around the state, so she isn’t entirely opposed to the idea.

Some officials have said they fear proposing changing to non-partisan elections will be a divisive issue and ultimately cause the charter revision to fail, even though some other good minor changes have been proposed.

What are those?

City Council was united against revisiting the charter in 2010, and Council Member Mike Bodary said he believes the commission is risking losing their good changes.

“This could be a polarizing item and could put the whole thing in jeopardy,” he said. “I would encourage the charter commission not to put something so controversial in there because it weakens the whole proposal.”

He said he suspects some people feel like they’re left out of local politics and because they are affiliated with the Republican Party and “are looking to slide in under the radar.”

“I think if you want to be honest and want people to know what you think about things, then you should be able to say ‘I’m a republican, I’m a democrat, I’m an independent,’” he said.

Mayor Paul Schreiber said the bottom line is that partisan elections communicate where candidates stand on issues.

“I think this is a big issue, and I think everything else (proposed by the commission) pales in comparison,” Schreiber said. “We were starting with a pretty good charter, so I’m not in favor of the proposed charter.

“It’s hard enough to get message to voters and, at the very least, they should know from a global standpoint where people stand and whether candidates are republicans or democrats.”



Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:50 a.m.

. . . . . more later . . . . . Schreiber(Dem) is telling you that labels are what defines the person and that labels are necessary for voters to make the right choices. Yet here is proof that labels are often times wrong and how people assume a person is one label or another without any basis in fact. It should be noted, the Charter Commission was elected as a non-partisan race. There were just 5 names on the ballot for 9 seats yet there were 11 officially declared candidates. Voters seemed to figure out who they wanted on the Commission without labels. The Charter Commission is a perfect example of how democrats, republicans and independents can all work together for the good of the community. Finally, here is an example that even Independents Flip-Flop. Mayor Farmer was on the last Charter Commission in 1994 where she pushed hard for non-partisan elections. There were several votes by the commission on the subject of non-partisan elections and each time Farmer lost the vote 4 to 5. Farmer blamed Democrats on the commission singling out Norm Kennedy and Suzanne Shaw for scuttling her idea of non-partisan elections. Farmer was for non-partisan elections in 1994, but she voted against non-partisan elections in 2011. Seems like even labels are a poor predictor of how people will actually vote.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:48 a.m.

Tom Perkins seems to be math challenged when he wrote "The commission is made up of four republicans and four democrats". Ah, no Tom, there are 9 members on the Charter Commission. 1. Doyle 2. Gawlas 3. Farmer 4. Hawkins 5. Fennel 6. Porter-Hoppe 7. Fink 8. Valvo 9. Fletcher Tom also got the labels wrong when he listed 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans on the commission Mayor Cheryl Farmer says she is an Independent and ran for Mayor as an Independent. Doyle has said he is an independent too and Hawkins has said that neither party fully represents his views or beliefs. Fink, Fletcher, Valvo and Porter-Hoppe say they are Republicans; Gawlas and Fennel have publicly said they are Democrats. That means Four Republicans, Two Democrats and Three Independents make up the nine-member Charter Commission. Six of the nine voted for non-partisan elections. It was Farmer that collected the signatures and filed petitions for her and the other 4 members on her slate to appear on the 2010 ballot. Farmers slate of five commissioners were, including herself Farmer (Ind), Gawlas(D), Fennel(D), Hawkins(I), and Valvo(R). Farmer supposedly had a 5-vote can't lose majority on the commission, yet Farmer couldn't even keep her own slate in line as two of the five from her slate voted against her and voted for non-partisan elections while a third member of her slate was absent. . . . . . more later . . . . .


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 8:57 p.m.

As usual, mayor Paul T. Schrieber doesn't know what he's talking about. There will be no instant run-off elections. There will only be a November election.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

Midtowner - where can I find the version of the proposed charter revisions you're referencing? The only version I can find on the city's website is date 6/30/11, and does contain language on a non-partisan primary to winnow the field down to two candidates for the non-partisan general, in Sec. 3.01 and 3.02. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Paul Schreiber

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

The proposed non-partisan elections would still require an August primary vote. The two candidates with the highest August primary vote counts would run against each other in November.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

@Ypsilanti...not quite. We have this choice already - its called &quot;Independant&quot;. Which achieves everything they are truely talking about above. Choosing to align with a party is very informational to the voters. Choosing to run independantly has worked well in Ypsilanti as well.

Rodney Nanney

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 6:48 p.m.

Lorie, if &quot;independent&quot; achieves everything that the nonpartisan ballot would accomplish, then why oppose codifying such a great idea into the charter? Why? Because you know that &quot;independent&quot; doesn't work in most cases. The best example of how &quot;independent&quot; fails as an option is that candidates not running as a Democrat have been routinely barred from planned primary election (Democrat) debates and almost exclusively ignored by the local press during the primary election season. If a local candidate cannot run on his or her record and plans, rather than hiding behind a party label that means nothing at the local level,then that candidate doesn't deserve your vote. Wouldn't you agree with that?


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

This is very interesting. Currently, council candidates are selected at the primary stage by a small minority of primary voters. Since Ypsi is heavily Democratic, and there are large numbers of voters who vote straight ticket Democrat, winning the Democratic primary virtually ensures the seat on council. If it were changed to non-partisan, however, candidates would have to make their cases to everyone voting in an election, not just to a minority of Dems voting in a primary. Although I'm a lifelong Dem, it seems to me that if you have confidence in your records of leadership, this change should not affect you at all. If, on the other hand, you are insecure about your record, I can see how this proposal might be something to avoid.

Rodney Nanney

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Under the current partisan election system, the &quot;real&quot; election for Ypsilanti mayor and city council takes place in early August, at a time when too few people are paying attention to politics. A significant percentage of the potential voters aren't even in the city at the time, as EMU is on break and many schedule family vacations during the summer months. Worse yet, this &quot;real&quot; election takes place on the Democrat primary ballot at the same time as county and statewide primary races for the republican party and other political parties. Because of the nature of primary elections, the voter has to choose ahead of time which party ballot they wish to vote. That means that, in August 2010, anyone wishing to influence the choice for governor, state senator, or state representative on the republican side would have been denied the opportunity to choose who would serve as mayor or their city council representative. Those who say that Ypsilanti voters have a real choice in the November general elections were apparently not confronted with my ballot in November 2010. It had all the characteristics of a Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez ballot, where I could vote for any mayoral candidate I wanted as long as he was Paul Schreiber. August is a lousy time to hold the election that decides who will manage a multi-million dollar budget, funded through the tax dollars of all city property owners, for the next four years. Multiple non-partisan elections for school board and especially the 2010 non-partisan election for City Charter Commission prove that holding the &quot;real&quot; election in November when the voters expect to have it makes good sense. As one of numerous Ypsilanti residents who chose to vote in the 2010 primary on the republican side of the ballot, I am pleased to support the non-partisan Charter Commission's decision to include reasonable changes to local elections in the updated Charter.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:05 p.m.

So primaries aren't &quot;real&quot; elections?

Steve McKeen

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

I can't believe there isn't going to be public hearing on the final version of the charter. This is a very sleazy and disingenuous way to operate by a group of people elected to look out for the best interests of the citizens. I'm very disappointed in these people who ran for the charter commission on the premise that it didn't need any changes. Simply put, these people lied to the people. Liars are the worst kind of policy makers.


Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 12:09 p.m.

Well, there it is: GOP baloney from this commission. A political game. I heard the first round of this debate - the GOP folks actually said &quot;we can't get elected as Republican's so we want this non-partisan style election&quot;. If you have to hide who you are in an effort to get elected, how can the Citizens trust you to do their bidding? Shame on GOP folks on this commission. You got elected because there was a completely different concern at the time and you were the lesser of two evils. If you aren't connected enough to your electorate to figure that out, you shouldn't be elected to anything else. This is DOA...and you should know that now.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

If I were a voter in Ypsilanti I'd vote to make the city elections non-partisan. Here in Ann Arbor it is clearly not working well and the city has been mismanaged ($100 million of spending fiascos have occurred (The Big Dig, Roj Mahal, the Huirinal) while a $500 million debt has been run up including in the retirement funds). I'm not sure how it works in Ypsilanti, but here in Ann Arbor, since a Republican cannot be elected to office in the city, lots of &quot;former&quot; Republicans run as Democrats and most of the elected leaders never bother to show up for Democratic party events because they are &quot;Democrats In Name Only&quot; (DINOs). It actually weakens the local Democratic party and results in a dysfunctional situation where the only election that matters is the primary. There is a good reason why only Ypsilanti, Ionia and Ann Arbor are the only cities in the entire state to elect city leaders in partisan primaries. Maybe someday we can have a charter amendment to fix the Ann Arbor City Charter, too!