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Detroit Consent Agreement: Mayor Wants Vote, City Council Wants Questions Answered

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/ 3/2012 8:17 am Updated: 04/ 3/2012 5:45 pm

Detroit Consent Agreement
Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis said the mayor's office is satisfied with the most recent version of a consent agreement and wants City Council to vote on a resolution to approve the agreement Tuesday.

This story has been updated.

Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis plans to introduce a resolution to Detroit City Council Tuesday morning that would call for the body to approve a financial consent agreement with the state.

Proponents say the agreement would help the city stave off a state-appointed emergency manager and begin the proces of righting Detroit's finances. The city could run out of cash in May and faces a projected $270 million deficit for this fiscal year.

But opponents, including several Council members, say the proposed consent agreement is just emergency management in disguise. It would create a nine-member financial advisory board with power to approve budgets and contracts and instate a chief financial officer and project management director with final say-so on spending and city operations.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES)

Another wrench was thrown into the process Monday, when an Ingham County judge prevented Detroit's financial review team from meeting to approve the consent agreement. The document must be signed by the review team, City Council, Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder. Judge Joyce Draganchuk found the review team could not meet because its 90-day term had expired.

On March 26, in its final meeting, the review team found Detroit to be in a state of "severe financial emergency" but had not yet entered into a consent agreement. The team did not, however, recommend the governor appoint an emergency manager.

Whether the team can now enter into an agreement with the city remains for the courts to decide. The state plans to appeal Draganchuk's ruling.

Still, the mayor's office wants action on the consent agreement from Council Tuesday. Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday is a final deadline for any agreement, otherwise he could choose to appoint an emergency manager to take control of Detroit.

"We're comfortable with it as written," Lewis said of the agreement during a special Council session Monday. But whether there are enough votes for it to pass the body remains unclear. At least three Council members -- JoAnn Watson, Kwame Kenyatta and Brenda Jones -- oppose a consent agreement in any form. Council Members Saunteel Jenkins and Andre Spivey and President Charles Pugh said they would like an agreement to include real cash assistance from the state.

"I think the state should be bringing money," Jenkins said Monday.

State officials have made no guarantees, citing the need for legislative action on any appropriations for cash assistance.

Detroit residents who turned up at Monday's meeting spoke passionately against the consent agreement, urging Council members to stand their ground and not "sell out" the city. Many pointed to recent court actions and the likely success of a petition drive to suspend Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, as reasons to forego approving the consent agreement.

As written, the document would remain in effect even if Public Act 4 were suspended or repealed -- a fact that led Council Member JoAnn Watson to call it an end-run on democracy.

UPDATE: 5:45 p.m. -- City Council chose not to vote on the consent agreement Tuesday, with President Charles Pugh saying the body would schedule a special session to continue discussion Wednesday afternoon.

Some Council members suggested the body do nothing until court cases surrounding the Detroit review team and the city's ability to enter into a consent agreement were resolved.

But the governor has set a Thursday deadline for a consent agreement to be approved, and Pugh said he was "not good at playing chicken."

"I don't want to take the risk and then we go into an emergency manager or Chapter 9 bankruptcy," he told reporters following the meeting. Pugh said he was disappointed the draft consent agreement did not include direct cash assistance from the state, but said he would support it anyway to avoid an emergency manager.

"Whatever we need to do I'm willing to do," he said.

But whether there's a majority vote on the Council to approve the ageement remains unclear. Council Member Andre Spivey made it clear Tuesday he would vote no on the agreement, and Council Members Watson, Kenyatta and Jones were also opposed.

Pugh and Pro Tem Gary Brown appear the only sure yes votes, with likely approval from Ken Cockrel, Jr., though he raised some objections to the document's language during Tuesday's session.

Detroit City Council adjourned discussion of the consent agreement until a special session Wednesday. Check back here for updates.

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City Council decided not to move the resolution to approve the consent agreement to new business, and therefore will not vote on the document today.

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The city's law department gave its analysis of the proposed consent agreement to City Council Tuesday afternoon.

The document, obtained by The Huffington Post, leaves several questions open.

Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon found some confusion over whether the agreement is authorized under a specific state statute. If it's not, "there is no authority under the Michigan Home Rule City Act for the city to enter into such an agreement with the state."

Therefore, the agreement must fall under a different state act, in this case Public Act 4. However, the document is not explicit about whether it would operate under PA4.

If it does, then a consent agreement could be "held invalid" if PA4 were suspended or repealed, Crittendon wrote.

"Although the city may enter into the proposed agreement, the City Council should be cognizant of the possibility that the agreement may be invalid if the petitions to repeal Public Act 4 are certified or Public Act 4 is repealed," the opinion states.

If the agreement is not made under Public Act 4, several provisions would violate Detroit's City Charter: "Without an enabling statute, the state and city are not authorized to vitiate provisions in a home rule charter, which have been adopted through a vote of the people."

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The mayor's office said it would deliver a resolution on the consent agreement to Council at 2 p.m. today and Pro Tem Gary Brown urged the body to vote on it Tuesday.

"If the mayor presents a resolution today, we need to vote today in order to show leadership" he said.

Some Council members questioned the wisdom of approving a consent agreement with the status of both the agreement and Detroit's financial review team -- a necessary party to the agreement -- tied up in the courts. But Brown thought it was better to be safe than sorry.

"We need to vote up or down today so that the option is in front of the governor. The only way to keep the consent agreement alive and on the table and in front of governor is to vote today."

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City Council's legal department will give an opinion on the legal complexities of the consent agreement this afternoon.

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A trio of Detroit's leading pastors urged City Council not to sign a consent agreement Tuesday.

Rev. Charles Williams of King Solomon Baptist Church said the state was "insulting the intelligence" of Detroiters and their elected officials. "Basically what they're saying is you don't have the ability to govern yourselves," he said.

Williams raised the question of $220 million both the mayor and City Council have said the state owes Detroit under a revenue-sharing agreement, but the state has refused to pay.

"They are being defiant; we must be defiant also," he said.

Rev. Tellis Chapman of the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church insisted Council "do the right thing, not the best thing," and vote down the agreement.

"This is your father's house and you must protect your father's house and defend democracy," he said. "Make sure that your position, your power and the people's voice is not forfeited under the guise of financial emergency."

Rev. David Bullock, president of Rainbow PUSH Michigan and pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church in Detroit also brought up the question of resources.

"You can manage," he said, "you just don't have nothing to manage with."

"The focus should be put on the reason why we don't have resources, not on cutting and trimming and trying to fit us into a position of management that ultimately isn't going to work unless we deal with other things."

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City unions are seeking a ruling from a federal judge, alleging the state pressured the city to ignore recently-negotiated tentative contracts.

The Bing administration sought and won big concessions from city workers, but his office has yet to send the contracts to City Council for approval. Union leaders say that's because the state is leaning on the city not to approve the deals.

Gov. Rick Snyder has said the contracts don't go far enough.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

A federal judge in Detroit is to resume a hearing Tuesday on a bid by unions to prevent the state of Michigan and city of Detroit from signing a consent agreement.

The Detroit City Council is considering a proposed deal this afternoon, but a coalition of unions representing city employees allege in court filings that any deal will violate their rights under the U.S. and Michigan constitutions.

[...]

State lawyers also argue that no existing contract would be impaired if the City Council agrees with Snyder’s urging and does not ratify union concessions agreed to between the unions and Mayor Dave Bing.

“Until the city formally ratifies the proposed contract and executes the agreement with the unions, there is no contractual obligation to be impaired,” the state lawyers argued in court filings.

Read more here.

Council President Charles Pugh said the body would deal with the tentative agreements today.

"You have negotiated in good faith and opened up the contracts and sacrificed in the name of the city," he said. "If were doing this for money reasons, then let's deal with the money. At some point today we will deal with that and figure out how we're moving forward, because I think it's disrespectful."

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Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown's spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh tells us Council won't make a decision on the consent agreement until 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Peckinpaugh said Council members were waiting to hear whether the agreement can move forward.

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