Black man talking and smiling; he has short cropped salt-and-pepper hair, a beard and a tan plaid shirt with his eyebrows raised above dark framed glasses.
Council President Pro Tem James Tate being interviewed by Detroit Documenter Roshaun Harris at Motor City Java House on Sept. 15. Image credit: Roshaun Harris/Detroit Documenters

When Documenters set out to interview councilmembers in August, we did not anticipate the project would take more than two months. We published findings from interviews with Councilmembers Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Scott Benson and Fred Durhal III, all of whom immediately responded to the interview request. District 4 Councilmember Latisha Johnson was also reached with relative ease, and her interview was completed by phone shortly after the first three. However, reaching the remaining five councilmembers is proving to be a chase. 

After a series of phone calls and emails, Documenter Roshaun Harris tracked down Council President Pro Tem James Tate in person at Motor City Java House during a routine coffee hour on Sept. 15. Tate even spoke on camera. Documenters were scheduled to interview Councilmember Coleman Young II on Nov. 6, but his office canceled. Council President Mary Sheffield, who is running for mayor, also canceled an interview. Documenters still have not heard back from Councilmember Angela Whitfield Calloway and Councilmember Mary Waters to schedule these 10-minute interviews. We now know Waters may have been busy pushing an alternative proposal to the Land Value Tax Plan

Tate is the longest standing councilmember, serving since 2009. In his interview, he talked about growing up in District 1, community organizing and supporting small businesses. He said his job as chair of the Planning & Economic Committee is to make sure that the city develops buildings and space back into productive use and that projects actually benefit the community. 

He said it’s his priority to get through the second round of marijuana licensing and that Detroiters have an opportunity to participate in the industry they fought hard to benefit from. In the first round, there were 33 licenses granted to adult-use retail marijuana business owners; Tate said half of those licensees were Black. He said you won’t find that anywhere else in the country. 

We’ve held off on publishing Councilmember Latisha Johnson’s interview for a few months, trying to wait for her colleagues to catch up. Like Tate, Johnson also has interests in community and small business, and sits on the Planning & Economic Committee. At the end of August, Johnson spoke affectionately about development in her district and how she prioritizes development of affordable housing, particularly affordable homeownership. 

During the interview, she hinted at a few large development projects that would come before the council this year. We don’t know if the nearly $14 million athletic air dome at Chandler Park is one of them. Johnson and other councilmembers preferred a more conventional brick-and-mortar recreation center instead.

Johnson’s advice to public commenters mirrors that of other councilmembers. She recommends commenters gain a better understanding of the council’s power. She said commenters often sound like they’re targeting the council, even though councilmembers may not have the authority to do what’s being asked. 

Tate’s advice is similar. He said public commenters should be clear and concise, which will give councilmembers the best opportunity to address the issues they can. He also said if you’re trying to contact your councilmember and don’t get through, keep calling. 

Detroit Documenters Kayleigh Lickliter and Roshaun Harris contributed to this reporting. 

Lynelle (she/her) likes working with Documenters because she thinks it’s important for us to share our news and our voices with our neighbors and networks. Her favorite spaces in Detroit are the urban gardens that promote peace, hope, health and healing.