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Hey Hey, Detroit!
You’ll see some new names in this week’s newsletter because we recently trained 24 new Documenters. Shoutout to the more seasoned note takers who make way for these new folks to take assignments and offer guidance and advice.
Another shoutout to the now more than 470 Detroit Documenters trained to monitor local government. Documenting public meetings is a civic side hustle, and we love to see Documenters grow and become more civically engaged in all kinds of ways. Tell us what projects you’re working on and how we can support you outside of assignments, or what you think we could be working on together. The (virtual) community of practice on May 31 would be a great place to do this. It’s open to any civically engaged Detroiter and their neighbors.
We’ll be taking next week off for Memorial Day before we experiment with changes to the newsletter’s format and sections throughout the summer. As always, reply and tell us what you think. What do you love most about the Detroit Documenters newsletter? Which sections of this newsletter are most important to you, and what could you do without?
“Can I tell you that there’s no better way to potentially kill a neighborhood?”
—Planning consultant Jay Juergensen addressing Detroit City Council about how failing water infrastructure affects Jefferson Chalmers
Investigations finally up and running at OCI
We hope you’ve seen and signed up for Streetlight Detroit, our new newsletter spotlighting all things safety, justice and policing. We know the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) has taken up perhaps more than its fair share of coverage in this newsletter, so our deeper dives will move over to Streetlight. We do want to take this opportunity to check in on the new chief investigator and close out a three-year saga.
The Rev. Jerome Warfield Sr. has now been in this job for about three weeks. A Detroit native, Warfield was a police commissioner himself from 2009-2013. At that time, he was tasked with reconstituting the Office of the Chief Investigator (OCI). Warfield and his team are responsible for investigating citizen complaints of noncriminal behavior by Detroit police officers and for reporting their findings to the board.
In typical BOPC fashion, the hiring process was far from straightforward. Warfield only took the job after the board first rescinded the offer over salary negotiations. He is now joining a board being investigated by multiple agencies including the Office of Inspector General and the Detroit Police Department.
The office has 18 employees, including five new investigators onboarded last week who need to work through a hefty backlog of 600-plus citizen complaints. The office still needs to hire four more investigators to help handle and investigate cases.
“We have to make sure that we have a fully staffed office to handle the complaints because our summer months are our busier months. We’re getting more and more complaints,” he said.
Undeterred, Warfield said he’s ready to make some changes.
“In spite of that, we haven’t taken our eye off the ball and (are) making sure that citizens and their complaints of misconduct against the police (are) still moving forward in a very good way,” he continued.
Politics, Utilities, Parks
Planning consultant and Jefferson Chalmers resident Jay Juergensen gave a presentation on the Jefferson Chalmers Water Project. He highlighted some problems that will remain issues as long as the neighborhood is in a floodplain and presented $40 million worth of other capital improvement projects to keep sewage water out of the basements, keep stormwater out of the system and to “keep the Great Lakes out of our neighborhood.”
He also proposed other projects that would be a “comprehensive solution” to the flooding but together would cost $1.5 billion. Juergensen fears the state law that gives immunity to government agencies will keep people in the neighborhood from being able to force the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to pay for damages when their infrastructure fails and causes flooding.
5/16/2023 Detroit City Council, Formal Session
Documented by Elyas Khan and Sherrie Smith.
Water affordability advocates from We the People of Detroit called in during public comment to praise the city’s Board of Water Commissioners for working with them to craft the Lifeline Plan, saying the resulting payment plan best serves residents.
Faygo Beverages Inc. representative Dale Williams appeared in person at the meeting to decry what he said has been a 69% increase in water costs for the soda brand. He said American cities of similar size to Detroit have different classifications of users and treat residential, commercial and industrial accounts differently. He said Detroit’s current rate structure penalizes business and industry, and causes companies like Faygo — owned by National Beverage Corp. in Florida — to question why they should remain in Detroit.
5/17/2023 Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Board of Water Commissioners
Documented by Paige Rollins.
The Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee gave an update on a mobility study they commissioned to find ways to improve traffic, safety and the overall experience of visiting the island.
More than 200 cameras were used to count vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists at 60 intersections around the park. Researchers used 38 flights to collect images and identify hourly congestion points and popular areas. In-person observations were used to see how people use and move around the island. Public meetings were held to gather input from stakeholders, and 3,000 participants returned public feedback surveys.
In a detailed slide presentation, representatives of the engineering firm hired to do the study recommended increasing two-way road traffic and constructing more bike paths, pedestrian crosswalks and signage and will keep gathering information, describing the presentation as “a midpoint.”
5/18/2023 Belle Isle Advisory Committee
Documented by Amber Umscheid and Robert Dewar.
(5/16) Detroit Public Schools Community District, Regular Board Meeting: Public commenters spoke against staff layoffs. Board members want to investigate the supposed health impacts of cell phone towers but didn’t know who or what to ask.
(5/18) Board of Police Commissioners: The board approves Police Chief James White’s request to expand the Detroit Police Department’s use of license plate recognition technology in an 8-1 vote.
(5/19) Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, Board of Directors: The port authority is focused on decarbonization and wants to shift the power source for the its terminal facilities from diesel to electric.
Question of the Week
Earlier this month, the Law Department’s report to the City Council’s resolution to establish gun-free zones was confidential until the council voted to make the resolution public. This led us to ask…
When is the Law Department’s advice to the City Council confidential?
The department is led by Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett, who acts as the attorney for all city departments, boards and commissions including City Council. In cases where the council or a councilmember is sued, the Corporation Counsel would provide legal representation.
This relationship means that anytime the Law Department shares opinions providing legal advice or counsel to the City Council, it is privileged — or confidential. The privilege belongs to the council, which can then vote to make the opinion or advice public, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Charles Raimi.
For leaving the meeting and leaving Highland Park’s business on the table
Over the past several months, Highland Park residents have expressed excitement and hope that the new mayor and all-new City Council will provide effective leadership. However, a lot of council meetings have devolved into dramatics, and city business has been left on the backburner.
Last week’s meeting was no different. Residents were outraged when three councilmembers chose to walk out of the meeting and the five-member body lost a quorum, effectively preventing the council from conducting business. Members walked out after Councilmember Kallela Martin demanded a public apology for a private email; according to Martin, the email said she wasn’t smart enough to do her job.
5/15/2023 Highland Park City Council
Documented by Carole Hawke and Roshaun Harris.
Upcoming training and events
Detroit Documenters Community of Practice (DCOP)
May 31, 6-7:30 p.m.
The DCOP is an opportunity to talk with Documenters, ask questions, share insights and brainstorm ideas. This casual virtual gathering is open to the community — no Documenters training required. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have announcements to share, a topic to discuss or want to take a leadership role in the workshop. We look forward to hanging out! Register to join us.
Tuesdays, 2-4 p.m.
Drop in to ask questions, pitch ideas, discuss assignments or just hang out. You can even get personalized training on topics like live-tweeting or improving your notes. Visit our office or join our office hours on Zoom.