Detroit’s charter was in the way of financial reform

Detroit City hall woodward entrance

As the findings of a report declare a financial emergency in Detroit, one could be tempted to solely blame political inaction.

Although in some cases this may be true, an interesting bit of information within the financial review documents finds the city’s Charter made Detroit fundamentally unable to implement some important changes.

For instance, the report specifically states that additional departments can be created, but there is no provision for their elimination by either the mayor or City Council (there are currently 16 departments, with a total of 76 commission members).

Another finding, the largest liability the city has ($7 billion out of the grand total of $13.6 billion) is healthcare costs.

Seal of Detroit on Belle Isle BridgeHowever, that expense could not be easily restructured or implemented in a timely manner because the charter, in its current form has additional approval requirements. City Council has to get an independent actuarial report on immediate and long term costs of any proposed changes in the contract. Then, no final decision can be made for another 90 days after the report is made public.

The major focus of popular discussion around the new Detroit City Charter was the addition of city council districts. However, between the issues mentioned here and the high profile confusion around the role of corporation counsel earlier in the process, it seems the recent revisions may have given Detroiters a bit less than they bargained for.

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