In their quest to interview all nine members of Detroit City Council, Detroit Documenters have learned that several councilmembers want residents to understand one thing: The council has limits to its powers.
Councilmember Scott Benson said people don’t seem to know there’s a separation of power between City Council and the Mayor’s Office, outlined by the City Charter.
“We can advocate all day long, but it’s really the Mayor’s Office — the administration — that has the power to implement,” he said.
To put it simply, council writes and approves legislation, but the Mayor’s Office is tasked with implementing and enforcing ordinances.
Residents can attend City Council meetings to make public comments on any issue or to ask councilmembers to vote a certain way on upcoming matters. However, when it comes to issues that fall under city services, such as flooding or illegal dumping near a resident’s property, councilmembers can’t immediately resolve them.
Councilmembers can help advocate and escalate certain issues to the appropriate city department, but the Mayor’s Office oversees all of the city’s departments and is responsible for executing their programs and services.
To make a public comment to the City Council, residents are encouraged to attend the meeting in person or online.
To report flooding, potholes, illegal dumping and other issues, residents are encouraged to submit these issues through Improve Detroit, also available as a mobile app.
For contact information of various city services, check out the Department of Neighborhoods’ general resources guide (Pages 14-18).
Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero told Documenters that the public directed a lot of frustration at the council because of delays in launching the Right to Counsel ordinance.
“That was not in our hands to do. That was on the administration side,” Santiago-Romero said.
The council enacted Right to Counsel in May 2022 to give free legal representation to Detroiters facing eviction. The city faced delays in building the new Office of Eviction Defense and didn’t launch the program until this past March, almost a year after the ordinance was enacted.
The council can advocate for issues and send inquiries to the Mayor’s Office for updates on programs, but it cannot give orders to the office or interfere in the administration’s matters.
The mayor’s administration has a City Council liaison who provides updates between both bodies. The liaison sometimes makes requests for the council to postpone voting on certain issues when the Mayor’s Office needs more time to locate funding or for community engagement.
Santiago-Romero said the council has the opportunity to listen to the public’s demands and concerns through public comments at its meetings and councilmembers’ office hours. She wishes that the administration could also be in tune with the public.
“We should be working together to make sure that we’re implementing what residents want,” Santiago-Romero said.
Councilmember Latisha Johnson echoed Santiago-Romero’s sentiment and said that “there has to be some threads between the two bodies.”
Johnson said the mayor’s administration has control of how money is spent in the city after the council sets and approves the budget for a fiscal year.
“If the administration has no political will, no desire to actually implement things that we put in the budget … it won’t happen,” Johnson said.