01/24/2012 05:53 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2012

Detroit Community Advisory Councils Could Increase Input In Local Government

Detroiters may see more access to their local elected officials under a new system designed to bring more citizen participation to city government.

A provision of the new City Charter, which went into effect Jan.1, establishes Community Advisory Councils to offer feedback and advice to City Council members.

The concept is not a new one; the City Charter Commission borrowed the idea for district-based public advisory boards from the 1997 charter, which were written in but later repealed.

Jeniece Mitchell Ford, who served as chair of the Charter Commission, told HuffPost its members brought back these Community Advisory Councils (CACs) because they wanted "to give citizens more input to city government, especially since we're moving to districts."

CAC districts will share borders with Detroit's new City Council districts.

Electing City Council members by district, rather than at-large, is another consequence of the new charter. Current Council members are working through the redistricting process and have set a Feb. 17 deadline for approving a new map of Detroit districts.

Under the charter's mandate, CACs will have five board members who will advise the City Council members on issues of concern to residents. CACs will be able to give counsel on topics including delivery of programs and services, resource allocation and community problem-solving with businesses and residents.

"The idea was they'd have the ear of their council member when it comes to everything -- recreation, transportation, development -- concerning real input in how their communities were developed and shaped," Ford said.

Community Advisory Councils should not be confused with Detroit's Citizen's District Councils (CDCs), which already exist. CDCs focus on financial development and are federally funded with money allocated by the city. Community Advisory Councils, on the other hand, are not funded by city, state or federal government, Ford said.

"Citizen District Councils are much broader," she explained. "They are two different creatures. There is no competition."

Each council must include one member over the age of 65 and one youth member. General members can serve one four-year term, while teens are allowed to serve as many one-year terms as they are elected until the age of 18. Like City Council members, CAC candidates must reside in their districts for at least one year before running for office.

CAC members have no formal power and will not be paid. But the charter allows CACs to compel their City Council representatives to listen to their advice on specific issues.

Members of CACs must officially meet at least four times annually, and City Council members are mandated to attend these formal meetings.

But the CACs won't be formed and representatives won't be chosen until after the 2013 City Council elections. Individual CACs must be established by citizen petition, which requires signatures equaling 10 percent of the ballots cast in the previous election. They likewise can only be dissolved by petition.