• New Detroit Charter Needs This Kind of Talent

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    Posted: Oct. 18, 2009

    FREE PRESS ENDORSEMENT

    Detroit voters made a pivotal decision last spring when they voted to create a charter commission.

    There is no shortage of serious issues that need addressing: the structure of city council, the handling of city departments and assets, the ethical strictures that keep local government honest.

    On Nov. 3, Detroiters will choose nine residents to grapple with those decisions next year, and come up with a new charter — a municipality’s constitution — for the Motor City.

    The Free Press has followed the race for charter seats from the beginning. We endorsed nine candidates for the Aug. 4 primary. Eight won spots for the runoff.

    Below are our choices for Nov. 3.

    Cara Blount, 60, is a retired deputy police chief whose detailed understanding of police administration will be a critical resource for the charter commission. She believes that council members should be elected by district and that there should be fewer of them than the nine Detroit has now.

    Ken Coleman, 41, is the policy wonk of the field, someone who can talk as easily about ethics policies in cities like Houston or Chicago as he can about how Detroit government was structured in the 1920s. He does his homework and draws strong ideas from a wealth of knowledge. His perspective will be key to the commission’s work.

    John R. Eddings, 66, was an ombudsman for Macomb County and for Detroit under three different mayoral administrations. Among the hopefuls, he has the most technical knowledge of how the city’s current charter works, and can draw on a wealth of experience seeing it in action.

    Patty Fedewa, 41, is a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board. There’s a danger that the charter commission could be too crowded with attorneys, but Fedewa’s experience, plus her leadership of the Bus Improvement Project at Transportation Riders United, an advocacy organization for public transit riders, give her the right qualifications for the commission. She would approach the charter revision process from scratch — throw out the old and start anew. That’s an important perspective to have in the room.

    Freman Hendrix, 58, is among the most recognizable names in the race for charter commission and among the most deserving of a seat. He spent more than two decades working at every level of city government, and has run twice for mayor. He’d change the way the council and council president are elected, and would like to make it easier for the mayor and council to restructure city government and services.

    Elena Herrada, 52, is a newcomer to politics but not to activism on behalf of the city and her neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. For years, she has been the catalyst behind efforts to get stronger representation (on the council, in the Legislature, on the school board) for this growing part of the city and its large contingent of Latino residents. If she wins in November, she’d be the first Latino elected citywide in recent memory. Her voice would be key to ensuring that Southwest Detroit is not overlooked in the charter revision process.

    John Johnson, 55, is the former Detroit corporation counsel whose actions were partially at issue in the scandal that brought down Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and who is still defending himself from disciplinary charges as a result. But Johnson says his actions can be explained by vague and contradictory charter language, and his long career before his stint with Kilpatrick establishes him as a man of integrity. His deep understanding of the charter’s problems is the strongest argument to have him in the room when the document is rewritten.

    Sarah Lile, 58, is a lawyer with experience in the public and private sectors who has been an assistant law dean at Wayne State University School of Law. For 10 years, she was director of Detroit’s Department of Environmental Affairs, and she helped draft the state’s requirements for redeveloping polluted sites. Lile’s exacting experience developing legal strictures and policy would be invaluable in the charter revision process.

    Jenice Mitchell Ford, 34, is a commercial litigator who has served on several government transition teams in Detroit and was a vice chair of the city’s Board of Ethics. She has intimate knowledge of the way the city’s current ethics guidelines are structured (chapter, section-citing knowledge) and would like to focus on tightening those guidelines, clarifying the circumstances under which the mayor can be removed and making it clearer when special elections must take place.

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