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Detroit to ask voters for changes to city charter

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

The Detroit City Council is asking voters to weigh in on proposed changes to the City Charter, including relaxed rules on who can run for office.

During a special meeting Wednesday night, the council unanimously approved a resolution placing the revisions on the Nov. 8 ballot, which marks the first time in 10 years voters have been asked to amend the charter.

Wednesday’s decision was the culmination of five months of effort after the formation of the Charter Review Committee in March to gather research and public input. Members of the committee included Mayor Jim Trett, Councilor Denny Nielsen, Councilor Michelle Tesdal and residents Kate Woodrum, Ken Woodward, Teresa Maurmann and Traci Boland.

Trett said Wednesday he was proud to have worked with the committee members and to have conducted meaningful discussions with members of the public.

“I was honored to be on that committee,” he said.

Qualifications relaxed

Changes in the proposal ranged from grammar and syntax corrections to revisions in the definition of who can serve as a councilor or mayor.

According to the current charter, up to two members of the seven-person City Council may be a “non-primary resident,” or an individual registered to vote in Detroit who lives elsewhere for a majority of the year, as opposed to a “primary resident,” who lives more than six months of the year within the city. In addition to limited representation on the council, non-primary residents are not allowed to serve as mayor.

The proposed changes do away with this distinction and allow anyone registered to vote within Detroit to run for public office or serve as mayor, provided they have been registered for more than 12 months prior to the election. An exception would be an appointee filling a vacancy, for which the 12-month requirement would be waived.

Similar language was eliminated in the signature requirement for candidates filing to appear on the ballot. The current charter requires 20 signatures from primary residents, and the proposed charter instead requires signatures from qualified voters and reduces the number to 15.

Other rules remain

Among provisions kept in place were the process for appointing mayor, who is chosen annually by the City Council from among its members. Though the committee considered extending the mayoral term to two years and allowing for direct election by voters, public input gathered during a July 9 town hall meeting encouraged the committee to retain the current system.

The process for electing councilors was also unchanged, with the top three vote earners during a General Election serving four years and the remaining winners serving two years.

Also retained was a requirement for councilors to attend nine out of 12 monthly meetings within a calendar year, or face dismissal from office. However this policy was updated to include the opportunity to attend meetings virtually or by phone.

Procedural updates

A handful of other changes were recommended to reflect state policy and the common practices of other cities. These included clarification of the process by which landowners may object to public improvements affecting their property, and limitations on how much debt the city can acquire.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments helped guide the city through the process of exploring and proposing revisions, while the League of Oregon Cities provided guidance as well.

A complete copy of the proposed City Charter may be obtained through City Hall.

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