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City Council ’s approval of $60 million in tax abatements for Bedrock took place at the last formal session after Councilmember Coleman A. Young II walked the item onto the agenda.
Arguing that residents and community members didn’t have enough notice about the vote, City Council President Pro Tem James Tate voted against the abatement along with Councilmembers Angela Whitfield Calloway, Latisha Johnson and Gabriela Santiago-Romero.
“I believe that everyone should have an opportunity to know what is going on this agenda to vote,” Tate said during the meeting. “That’s where I have to personally draw the line, in terms of the process.”
Walking-on an item is an option available to councilmembers who want to introduce an item into the meeting that was not on the agenda beforehand. It requires a motion and is only permitted by the discretion of the City Council president.
It isn’t uncommon for councilmembers to walk-on items they would like to discuss or vote on during a meeting, but it does make public discussion of those items more difficult and could make it more difficult for councilmembers to be prepared for a vote.
City Council usually posts its agenda publicly at least a few days before the meeting, even though the state’s Open Meetings Act does not require it.
When the tax abatements were first brought before council on June 14 for a vote, opposition to the measure was passionate. During that meeting, the vote was postponed, and then postponed two more times on June 21 and on June 28. Near the end of last Tuesday’s meeting (which lasted about six hours), Young motioned to move the item to new business for a vote.
Council President Mary Sheffield read a written statement in support of the tax break after Bedrock agreed to increase the ratio of affordable housing units, among other things, in the revised community benefits agreement.
Whitfield Calloway said she was not aware of some conversations around the tax abatements or the revised community benefits mentioned during the meeting, and said it is a disservice to citizens to go forward with the vote. Sheffield said although the item was walked on, it was on the agenda as a referral to the Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee and that Young made the motion to remove the referral in order to be voted on.
The main question Detroit Documenters have about walk-on items is whether this lack of transparency damages the public’s ability to participate fully in city decisions because only people with inside information can be prepared to participate.
One person at the meeting who asked not to be identified said they received a tip about the vote happening.
Out of about 65 public commenters present, there were at least 22 people, including several union members, who commented in support of the tax breaks. At least nine people expressed opposition. Representatives from Rocket Companies were also present.
Byron Osborne, labor leader of the Electrical Workers Union, attended the meeting and expressed his support for the tax abatements. He later told Detroit Documenters that he was not told about the vote happening but that he had a feeling that the council was going to vote on it because it was their last meeting before recess.
John Perkins, a business representative at the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, also spoke at the meeting in support of Bedrock. He told Detroit Documenters that he did not know there would be a vote but that he saw the items mentioned in the agenda which is why he came out to the meeting.
Those in opposition to the tax abatements were worried there would be a loss of funding toward local schools and libraries.
The Hudson’s site is currently under construction, expected to be done in late 2024 and projected to be the second-tallest skyscraper in Detroit. (The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center is the tallest.) There would be no affordable housing in Hudson’s skyscraper; however, Bedrock committed to adding affordable housing in its other buildings.