What about City Council?

Watchdogs are sometimes the last to know.

June 4, 1997

by Ann Mullen, MetroTimes

As downtown gets revamped, it's apparent that City Council is not on the inside of the planning process. No council member is part of the Downtown Partnership, the council has virtually no presence on the other groups developing downtown. While the council votes to approve proposals which come before it, it has little say in fashioning them.

Should the council be an active player in development? Are members abdicating responsibilities? Are they pawns of the administration?

"The City Council has two responsibilities," says council member Nicholas Hood III. "One is to pass laws and approve the city budget. The rest of the year we monitor the expenditures against the budget items. I see my role as being thoughtful about the laws and amendments to see if they make sense. "

"It is the necessary tension between the legislative and administrative branches,” adds Hood. "It is a balance of power. "

Another way the council attempts to balance power is reflected in members' questioning of downtown development plans. Hood is particularly concerned about the role of the Greater Downtown Partnership, a corporation dominated by big business interests that is spearheading downtown development.

Hood says that small city-based businesses are being excluded.

"I think that a large cross-section of businesses need to be involved. ... The danger is that if it is reserved for few businesses, then it runs the risk of some businesses being left out."

Mel Ravitz, a council member for 28 years who is retiring this year, is particularly critical of recent plans. “Drug use, lack of street lighting, decayed buildings, what will casino gambling and two stadiums do for the people of this city?" he asks in a neighborhood newsletter, What Shall it Profit the People? "I think those orchestrating them think we will become so rich that the money will spray out to the neighborhoods. But we are only going to enrich the rich and the neighborhoods will continue to decline."

In the end, the tension between the council's watchdog duties and the administration's drive for development largely defines how things get done in Detroit.

Brenda M. Scott notes that the City Council has the final word: "We deal with the sale and disposition of city owned property. They have to come before us."

Still, adds member Kay Everett, "The goal of both branches should be to work together to do what is in the best interest of the city. "