Hey Hey, Detroit!

We normally don’t publish a newsletter the day after a federal holiday, but we’ve been working hard and have a special edition for you. 

Last week, we spent a great day working from the park and discussing civic engagement, government transparency, access and availability. We shared space with the Ombudsman’s Office, and Bruce Simpson told us what they do. Simpson was curious about our brainstorm sheet of topics Detroiters could use more information about. He added a question: Where do you go if you have a complaint about an agency? And, he gave us an answer: the Office of the Ombudsman. He said his office investigates complaints about any agency that uses tax money. On the other hand, they do not have jurisdiction over the oversight agencies like the Board of Police Commissioners. He said for police complaints you contact the Office of the Chief Investigator. 

It’s good to know there’s a place we can go for answers. You can also TXT Outlier at 67485 to receive housing, utility and other information, and to contact an Outlier reporter, who monitor the system every day. 

City Council is back in session this coming week. We’re glad the council has come such a long way in the two years we’ve been documenting them. When we started as coordinators, we couldn’t even access city council meeting minutes. Now, they have eScribe — a calendar-based system for accessing minutes, agendas and more. 

Now, we’re wondering about the best way to access the councilmembers themselves. At the end of July we set out to interview all the councilmembers about the upcoming term. So far, we have conducted four out of nine interviews, but we intend to press on. 

How long will it take for us to get 10 minutes of each councilmembers’ time? How available and accessible should we expect a public official to be to their constituents? 

We’re here to hold government officials accountable. Join us

We also hold ourselves accountable to be accessible, equitable and transparent. We’re building a better Detroit, together. Join the Outlier Collective, as a donor or for free, and participate civically with us. 

“Oh, this is important work. I appreciate it.”

—Bruce Simpson, City of Detroit Ombudsman, after learning about the Detroit Documenters during our Work from the Park Day

Councilmember Interviews

With City Council on recess and no public meetings to attend, we thought it would be a great chance for Documenters to exercise their interviewing skills. We also wanted to give councilmembers a chance to talk with us about their priorities, uninterrupted and unchallenged. 

We contacted City Council President Mary Sheffield’s office and were told that offices were open and councilmembers would be working in their districts. Documenters were successful in securing four out of nine interviews during August despite lots of phone calls, emails and even conversations with staff (three were completed in time for publication). 

We’re still waiting for a response from Council President Sheffield, Pro Tem James Tate, and Councilmembers Angela Whitfield Calloway, Mary Waters, and Coleman Young II. 

It could be our timing. Perhaps we were wrong to think councilmembers would be even more available out of session. When is the best time to contact your councilmember? 

The councilmembers we did speak to offered advice for making effective public comment, and two of them said they want people to understand the Council is responsible for passing laws, but the mayor is responsible for implementing programs. 

We want to thank the Detroit City Councilmembers for participating in this civic exercise with us. We look forward to the rest of the interviews!

Councilmember Scott Benson (D3)

Benson talked about being proud of establishing the Wealth Generation Task Force and the initiatives that task force is working on, particularly the efficient transfer of wealth. The city can pay for title services when property is transferred between family members. He’s also proud of efforts to restore the Coleman A. Young International Airport. 

Benson spoke to his position on marijuana dispensaries, “Just that I think we have too many,” and too quickly. He prefers they be licensed more gradually, Benson said, adding he also wants to see funding for youth substance use prevention. Benson also wanted to clarify a “misconception” for the record. He said he isn’t advocating to take control of the Library Commission, rather that since the City Council approves the budget they should also have some say over library operations.

Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero (D6)

Santiago-Romero confirmed she will run again in 2025 and said she’s proud of some of the “fires” she was able to help put out with the help of residents. The failed cement-crushing plant in Core City got a shoutout from her as an example of great organizing. She’s proud the Council has finally put money into a public health fund that can be used to fight pollution. 

The councilmember’s district has struggled with fugitive dust for a long time, and she said she wants to strengthen the current ordinance. Once the city completes its truck route study, she said there should also be a truck route ordinance, or the Council should at least establish truck routes for the city that minimize harm to neighbors. 

Over the next year, she thinks councilmembers should learn to better use their “collective voice.” By banding together around common causes, the city council could be more effective in finding a budget to pay bus drivers more. Santiago-Romero said she will continue pushing for more non-police response units to respond to non-violent mental health calls.

Councilmember Fred Durhal III (D7)

Durhal said he thinks a lot of Detroiters believe he’s just interested in development. He explained that he’s really a supporter of people. “Our neighborhoods got in the shape that they’re in right now because of the high rate of unemployment,” Durhal explained. He said he supports development because it creates jobs that help pay gas bills, rent and mortgages and keep residents from facing eviction. “That’s how you continue to keep neighborhoods stabilized,” he continued, saying, “I am strictly focused on the people and our residents and our neighborhoods.”

In District 7, he’s focused on the completion of two neighborhood recreation centers. One project is a facility being built in Rouge Park, with $20 million of investment by Pistons owner Tom Gores. The other is an $8.5 million revitalization of the Dexter-Elmhurst Community Center. He’s also excited about the expected 500 jobs that will come with the Former AMC Headquarters Redevelopment Plan

For all Detroiters, Durhal said his team will continue working toward a resolution of the property assessment situation that overtaxed so many people. He also thinks solving the transportation issue and lack of bus drivers would be a “huge, huge feat.”

Stay tuned for more interviews as we get them, including one just conducted with Councilmember Latisha Johnson (D4).

August 2023 Special Assignment: Interview a Councilmember
Documented by AJ Johnson, Alex Klaus, Allise Hurd, Amelia Benavides-Colón, Kayleigh Lickliter, Robert D’Andrea, Roshaun Harris, Sherrie Smith and Sonja Stuckey

If you are looking to meet more like-minded Detroiters, join The Outlier Collective, our membership program. Members will gain access to exclusive membership events, a members-only newsletter, volunteer opportunities and more. The Outlier Collective aims to further Outlier’s vision to create a liberated Detroit. Join today!


Meeting accessibility

A SMART staff member kneels in front of a woman seated in the audience, holding a microphone for her to give public comment.
Photo credit: Detroit Documenter Perry Sylvester

At the July 27 SMART Board of Directors meeting, staff members added chairs to ensure access for all participants even though many of them were protestors. They also brought the microphone to public commenters with mobility challenges. Shoutout to them for making sure all voices were heard and included for the record.

Get Involved

Upcoming training and events

Become a Detroit Documenter 
Register to become a Detroit Documenter, and participate in some other trainings and events while you wait for the next orientation coming this fall. 

Documenters Family & Friends Meetup at Jazz in the Parks 
Friday, Sept. 15, 5-8 p.m., Riverside Park 
A few Documenters thought it would be fun to meet up at Jazz in the Parks, and we thought so too! Grab a blanket or chair, look for the yellow Documenters swag and meet us there. Bring a friend! 

Introduction to FOIA Requests 
Tuesday, Sept. 26, 6-7 p.m. 
Join us to learn more about the Freedom of Information Act and how you can exercise your rights to seek public information by issuing FOIA requests.

Documenters Network-wide Virtual Community of Practice 
Wednesday, Oct. 4, 6-7:30 p.m. EST
All Documenters from any location are welcome, regardless if you’ve attended a training or taken any assignments. Come as you are and connect with Documenters in other cities!

Join the Outlier Collective
Outlier Media launched a new membership program. Members help shape news coverage, get access to exclusive events and more. You can join by becoming a donor, or join for free!

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.

Noah (he/him) believes people benefit their communities when they create civic media and commit acts of journalism. He enjoys being anywhere with live music or tacos.