New-Look Detroit Council Faces Tough Issues

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Christine MacDonald and Darren A. Nichols / The Detroit News

Detroit — A newly revamped Detroit City Council will launch its first official day with a meeting Tuesday, and there is no shortage of thorny issues ahead, including proposals to borrow $250 million, crack down on strip clubs and overturn a land sale under federal scrutiny.

 
Five of the nine members are new to the council, including President Charles Pugh. All of the newcomers ran on platforms promising to reform the council.

Several members said the city’s precarious finances are the top priority. Mayor Dave Bing needs the council’s approval to borrow $250 million in fiscal stabilization bonds to pay city bills amid an estimated $300 million deficit.

“I don’t think there’s anything legislatively more important than the budget and getting (it) under control. That has to be our priority,” said Councilman James Tate. “We have an opportunity that we’ve never had, and we have to take advantage of that and live up to the expectations and the realities that we’re dealing with (in the city).”

In addition, the council could take up a controversial crackdown on strip clubs, including a ban on alcohol and lap dances. Returning Councilwoman JoAnn Watson has pushed for the changes, in response to neighborhood safety concerns. But Pugh said that he is opposed. He said he would rather spend time making sure police are patrolling for illegal behavior outside the clubs, instead of further legislating what goes on inside them.

Another issue that could come up soon is whether the council should overturn the $3.5 million sale of Camp Brighton.

Earlier this month, Kandia Milton, a top aide and friend to former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge in connection with the sale to the Chaldean Catholic Church. A former Detroit Police officer testified he shared an illegal payment of $50,000 with Kandia Milton and his brother DeDan Milton to push the deal through council.

Church officials have said they did not knowingly pay a bribe.

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta has said he wanted to consider overturning the sale. The council approved it in a 5-4 vote over Kenyatta’s objection. He said the property had been appraised for a much higher value.

Pugh said he’s not sure the sale should be overturned but said a new vote on the sale should be held for transparency.


 

Pugh said one of his toughest tasks so far was divvying up coveted committee assignments, saying it was his “first lesson in politics.” He had to redo the lineup about a dozen times in order to satisfy his colleagues, he said.

The final version includes Kenneth Cockrel Jr. chairing the budget committee, Gary Brown heading up the public safety committee, Saunteel Jenkins leading the development committee, Brenda Jones chairing the internal operations committee and Kwame Kenyatta heading the neighborhood committee.

Pugh promised the five new council members are going to work cooperatively with the four remaining members.

“It’s not going to be old versus new,” Pugh said.

Brown, the new council president pro tem, said people have been stopping him on the street, excited about the possibilities of the new council. He wants to take advantage of that momentum.

“They are looking at us to see if we are serious about change or not,” Brown said. “I know I certainly am, and I’m excited to get to work. People are excited inside and outside (of the city) for change. I’m glad to be a part of it and I’m ready to get going.”

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