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Posted on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Vote delayed on Ypsilanti charter revision that includes proposed nonpartisan elections

By Tom Perkins

At its Wednesday night “public hearing,” the Ypsilanti Charter Commission approved sending a proposed charter revision to the state attorney general’s office for language approval.

Until it was discovered at the conclusion of the meeting that Charter Commission Chair Kim Porter-Hoppe had not convened a public hearing but only another commission meeting.

A public hearing, which will be posted in the city's newspaper of record and will include a short presentation on the charter revisions, will be held on March 7.

The revised charter could be in front of voters in November.

The commission has been meeting for over a year making minor changes to the charter. A proposed switch from partisan to non-partisan elections has caught some residents’ and elected official’s attention.

The commissioners didn’t discuss the election issue at Wednesday’s meeting beyond summarizing the changes.

Five residents attended, including Carl Schier, an Ypsilanti attorney and Democrat, who spoke against non-partisan elections during the meeting’s first public comment. He said he was “unalterably opposed” to the change.

“It’s a way for the party out of power to get in office, and, with all due respect to Republicans … I think that if you’re running for office then you are running on a party platform,” he said.

In December, the nine-member commission voted 6-2 to propose non-partisan elections.

The commission is made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and an Independent.

Independent former Mayor Cheryl Farmer, who helped craft the current charter, and Democrat John Gawlas were the lone votes against the proposed change. Democrat William Fennel was not present. Democrats Robert Doyle and James Hawkins joined Republicans Karen Quinlan-Valvo, James Fink, Peter Fletcher and Porter-Hoppe in voting for proposing non-partisan elections.

Ypsilanti, which officials estimate is more than two-thirds Democratic, currently has partisan elections and primaries.

The motion to send the revised language to the attorney general’s office was unanimously approved. Doyle and Hawkins were absent.

Gawlas originally voted against partisan elections but said he supports the commission's collective decision.

“A majority supported the notion of changing to a non-partisan election,” he said. “Yes, it’s true my vote on that specific question was to oppose that change, but a majority makes the decision on a body like this and that has been the majority’s decision.”

City Council has expressed its unanimous opposition to the change and passed a resolution recommending that the Charter Commission hold a public hearing to discuss non-partisan elections.

During the second public comment after the commission’s unanimous vote, a resident asked if there would be a public hearing. He said he knew of several people who didn't attend because they didn't think it was a public hearing.

He was told by Porter-Hoppe that the current meeting was the public hearing, but City Clerk Frances McMullan clarified that public notice had to be posted and published in a newspaper of record for it to qualify as a public hearing.

That led Commissioner Cheryl Farmer to make a motion reconsider the vote, which was approved 6-1. A new vote will take place at the March 7 public hearing.



Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Ann Arbor should switch to nonpartisan elections. Now most of the election contests are in August when the voter turnout is low.

Glen S.

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Over a month ago, Ypsilanti City Council voted unanimously to request that the Charter Commission conduct a public hearing on any proposed changes. More recently, City Council members were assured that a public hearing would happen once the Commission had finalized their recommendations. Nevertheless, at Wednesday's sparsely-attended meeting, Commission Chair Kim Porter-Hoppe attempted to finalize the Commission's recommendations and send them to the State Attorney General's Office for approval -- without a formal opportunity for Ypsilanti residents to review and comment on them -- as requested by Council, and required by City ordinance. Only after City Clerk Frances McMullen asserted at the meeting *several times* that such matters do, in fact, require a public hearing (with notice widely advertised in the community, and posted at least seven days in advance) did the Commission Chair finally agree back-track, and ultimately vote to delay forwarding the Commission's recommendations until Ypsilanti residents have a chance to consider them. I strongly suspect the reason Porter-Hoppe and her fellow Republicans on the Commission had hoped to escape such public scrutiny is because they know their proposal to institute "non-partisan" elections in Ypsilanti, once discovered, will be wildly unpopular. In a year when Ypsilanti is dealing with so many other major challenges, the last thing we need is a divisive and expensive campaign over a single, unnecessary Charter provision. After the March 7 public hearing, I hope that won't be necessary.

Bob Carlin

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 : 11:43 a.m.

Nonpartisan has a lot of advantages. Here in Ann Arbor, the principal function of the Democratic party appears to be winning elections, rather than standing for a particular set of values. This results in a number of Republicans running as Democrats because it is easier to win an election as a Democrat. There is no reason for a city to adopt the failed process of the two party system. Let's have nonpartisan elections in Ann Arbor so we can vote for issues and the character of the candidate rather than a mirage of values which don't really exist.