Despite having a shorter-than-anticipated window of time, every one of the seven newly formed City Council Districts is working to meet the requirements to form a Community Advisory Council (CAC) for their district. CAC formation requires that each district obtain the buy-in of 10 percent of the residents of that district via petition signature, a requirement that would not be as difficult if each district's City Council members used their platform to rally support for CACs among the very residents that elected them.
According to commentary within the Detroit City Charter, the establishment of CACs is part of the Charter's revision to foster direct resident participation in government in a formal and institutionalized manner as an effective means to achieve community objectives and improve the overall condition of the city. The Charter "attempts to provide for greater citizen participation in government decision making... regarding district representation on certain public boards and commissions (e.g. City Planning Commission, Transportation Advisory Board, Historical Commission, Health Advisory Board, etc.)." It goes on to say that "The ordinance shall be adopted within 90 days after the effective date of this Charter." Our City Council adopted the ordinance on the 90th day, technically making it possible for districts to begin gathering signatures on April 1, 2014.
CACs are not optional. The revised Detroit City Charter, which was approved in 2011 and went into effect January 1, 2014, brought with it a requirement that the City Council, according to the City Charter, "... create advisory council districts by ordinance that shall be the same as the districts from which council members are elected, exclusive of the at-large district..."
CACs are non-partisan. Like other councils and committees, partisan politics have no place in this service to the community.
CACs are not a part of the City budget. They cannot receive appropriations for the City of Detroit funds, but they -- as an entity may accept donations and grants. Members of the CACs serve at their own expense.
CACs must be active and engaged. Members of the CACs must hold official meetings at least four times annually, and City Council members are mandated to attend these formal meetings. Although CACs have no formal power, the Charter compels their City Council representatives to listen to their advice on specific issues
It's clear that Community Advisory Councils have the potential to provide a valuable service by keeping districts connected and aware of the happenings in city government and by bringing the voice of the community to City Council members, creating greater accountability of those elected to serve the interests of their district.
With the July 22 deadline looming, residents are working extra hard to meet not only the 10 percent requirement, but also to recruit at least five residents who want to serve on the CAC. Within that same deadline, residents wanting to serve on a CAC must gather an additional 200 signatures in order to be added to the ballot in the general election in November (the remaining two members of the seven-member CAC are appointed by City Council). It is only after the petition to form a CAC goes through the usual approval process and the City Council officially approves establishment of a CAC for a district that those willing to serve for that district can begin to gather the 200 signatures. Failure to gather the needed signatures leaves that district with the option of launching a write-in campaign which, though more difficult, is not impossible. In this case, we can only hope that Detroit history repeats itself.
At press time, CACs have not been established for any of the seven council districts, and all of the districts are still working to get the required signatures. It would seem that this would be a great opportunity for all City Council members to step in and help form these CACs for their districts as a show of support and in the spirit of what the CACs are created to accomplish. That could make for the beginning of a great working relationship and stronger, more engaged communities.
For more information on how you can participate in forming a CAC for your City Council District, contact Aaron Goodman at Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) at: email@example.com or 313-832-4566