Detroit Citizens Key to Defining the Council Districts

02/07/2012 02:43 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2012

Two years ago there was a call to alter city government. Accountability among Detroit's elected officials was severely lacking. Transparency was nearly non-existent. Residents felt council members did not connect with them. These factors led citizens to push for a ballot vote in 2009 to create a City Council District system and for a revised City Charter. Both initiatives passed, and now is the time to determine the seven districts.

Typically, when re-drawing boundaries, legislators -- local, state and federal -- create districts and then present them to the public as a final product. In fact state law, specifically the Michigan Home Rule City Act, approves of this procedure. Despite this standpoint, my colleagues and I desired a more open process and chose to have public input and hearings in defining the new Council Districts.

Therefore Detroiters and City Council members, will collaborate in structuring the new districts. The districts will be in effect during the 2013 election when candidates run for seats on City Council and the Board of Police Commissioners.

We are doing something different here with the Council Districts' maps feedback process. Citizens have a voice. Detroit City Council will host four public meetings which began on Friday, February 3 to gather citizens' feedback. If you are a Detroit resident and/or business owner, I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Detroit City Planning Commission designed four district map options for City Council to present to the public. These maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and meet the state laws of contiguous and close-to-equal population.

My office is moving one step further by hosting five Town Halls to capture additional citizen input. We are distributing a survey at these meetings, seeking direct citizen feedback.

While there will never be a perfect solution for representation, I believe this process can assist us in selecting the districts' map that best balances citizen input with state law.

I encourage Detroiters to attend one of my Town Halls and/or City Council public hearings between now and February 15. If you are unable to attend, you may complete the online survey at

The City Council's intent is to make a decision by February 17 in order to give residents in the districts time to decide if they want to run for City Council or the Board of Police Commissioners. Candidates must live in the district at least one year prior to May 13, 2013 in order to be eligible to run for office.

During the first two public hearings there has been a common theme that some citizens believe Council Districts' lines will create boundaries. That is untrue. The districts are artificial lines to define legislative areas much like a Congressional district. They will not impact neighborhoods working together and connecting with your Detroit Police Precinct. Districts will provide citizens a go-to person on City Council, not erode relationships or make smaller cities within Detroit.

With districts, citizens will have a direct voice on City Council; however it must be noted that voice must still galvanize support from at least five council members to pass ordinances, contracts and the budget. Despite this direct voice, it must be understood that the revised City Charter does not give council members authority over service delivery or city departments.

Lastly, City Council members may continue to use the leverage of budgeting, ordinances and public hearings to push for changes, desired by constituents.

Follow me on Twitter @garybrown4det.