Ypsilanti elected officials ponder charter revision following vote
A nine-member charter commission elected by Ypsilanti voters will soon convene to consider a revision of the city's charter.
No specific is date has been set, but once the vote from Tuesday's election is certified, City Clerk Frances McMullan will call an organizational meeting of its members. Ypsilanti residents voted 2,083 to 1,985 to establish a charter commission for a general rewrite of the city's charter. They also elected charter commissioners.
When the commission meets, it can opt to go one of two directions after reading over the current city charter. It can decide the charter needs no changes, at which point the commission would be dissolved and the charter would remain in place. Under this scenario, no public vote would be needed.
If the commission decides it wants to propose changes, it then has 90 meeting days to develop a new charter. The changes could range from a few minor tweaks to a more thorough rewrite.
Voters would then decide whether to approve the new charter. An election would happen no less than 60 days after the proposed charter is completed. McMullan said the question could wait to go on the ballot of a scheduled election so a special election wouldn't be required.
The charter commission is comprised of Cheryl Farmer, James Hawkins, Karen Quinlan-Valvo, John Gawlas, William Fennel, James Fink, Robert Doyle, Peter Fletcher and Kim Porter-Hoppe.
City attorney John Barr said the meetings would be run "parliamentary style." At the first meeting with McMullan, the commission will develop an agenda, establish procedural rules and decide on meeting times. The commission also must choose a chairman, vote for a secretary and keep minutes of its meetings. The members can also hire a consultant if desired.
In revising the charter, the commission members essentially start with a blank sheet of paper and go through the charter line by line. A majority vote decides what stays and what is nixed. Commissioners also vote on any additions or changes, and if there is not a majority vote, then an issue or proposal dies.
Charter members will not be compensated for their time and the process does not cost the city money aside from minor staff time dedicated to the process.
The current charter was implemented in 1994. Per that charter, a proposal for a general revision must be on the ballot every eight general election cycles, or 16 years. This is the first time a revision has come up for a vote. Among the major changes made in the last revision was redistricting the city into three wards instead of five.
Former mayor Cheryl Farmer was on the commission that developed the current charter and was elected to the new commission. She said she voted against opening the charter and pushed for others to do the same.
"I felt that the charter as it's currently written has been very good for the city and I don’t know of anything personally that needs to be changed," Farmer said.
But she added that she would be open to reconsidering how the question of a charter revision is put in front of voters. The proposal was confusing this year and many people were not fully educated on the issue, Farmer said.
She said nearly 20 people ran for the charter commission in 1994, while only five candidates and six write-ins were up for a vote in this election. Farmer said residents were much more aware of the issue in "94 because it was put in front of voters by City Council and widely discussed.
Porter-Hoppe also said she voted against opening the charter. She said she hasn't found any real problems with the current one but "is excited to have the opportunity to commit to public service.”
City officials were surprised residents voted to open the charter. The proposal passed by 98 votes.
All council members had publicly stated their opposition to the proposal before Tuesday’s vote and several said they had heard of no one who had an issue with the charter.
Kevin Hill, who runs local radio station AM 1700 with City Council member Brian Robb, was the only resident who told AnnArbor.com before or after the election that he supported a charter revision.
Hill, who was also a write-in candidate for mayor, said he doesn’t have any particular problems with the current charter, but he thinks reviewing it makes sense.
“All these things can certainly stand to be reviewed if there’s a mechanism in place to review them,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea. There has been a lot of changes in the world and Ypsilanti since 1994.”
Farmer said the commission needs to talk to residents who voted for the revision and ask what needs to be changed.
Council Member Mike Bodary said he saw no groundswell of support leading up to the election and thought the results could partly be attributed to people voting yes on the transportation charter amendment, then also unintentionally voting yes on the charter revision.
“I think people were voting for the transit millage which was a charter amendment, voting for other millages, yes, yes, yes, right on down the line and somehow voted ‘yes’ for a revision of the charter,” he said.
Council Member Pete Murdock also said that's what may have happened. He said there was a general lack of discussion and very little voter education on the issue because so much attention was focused on passing the transportation charter amendment.
“Nobody was frothing at the mouth to have any particular changes made,” Murdock said. “Most people have never read the thing enough to know what they would want to change, and people who have an idea, politicos, so to speak, I didn’t get the impression those people were salivating for a change. I think everyone who ran for (the charter commission) outwardly opposed a revision.”
Murdock and several other officials said they hope the commission chooses not to make any changes