Six new and three returning members were sworn into Detroit’s City Council by Chief Judge Denise Page Hood on Jan. 7.
Voters upended the local government body last November after corruption investigations, lack of transparency and ongoing questions about the use of City funds furthered residents’ distrust in elected officials. In the few days that the new members have been in office, each has promised transparency and accountability over the next four years.
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While City Council received a major face-lift, Detroiters re-elected Mayor Mike Duggan for a third term and City Clerk Janice Winfrey for a fifth.
Angela Whitfield-Calloway unseated incumbent Roy McCallister Jr. in District 2. Whitfield-Calloway called the number of new councilmembers a historic change for Detroit and said voters want to see true representation amongst their elected officials. The new councilwoman told BridgeDetroit that her hope is to “revive the confidence and restore the validity in our legislative branch.”
“It seems for far too long the concerns and the priorities of the people of Detroit have been drowned out by the priorities of corporations and special interests. Putting profit over people sends a clear message to our residents that their voices don’t matter. That must and will change,” she wrote in an email.
Mary Sheffield of District 5 ran unopposed and was selected by her colleagues as City Council president. James Tate of District 1 was chosen as president pro tem, edging out newcomer Mary Waters, who also vied for the position during the council’s first session of the new year.
Other newcomers have secured leadership roles on committees. Fred Durhall III of District 7 will chair the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee; Latisha Johnson will chair the Internal Operations Committee; Coleman Young Jr. will chair the Neighborhood and Community Services Committee; Gabriela Santiago-Romero will chair the Public Health and Safety Committee; and Angela Whitfield- Calloway will chair the Rules Committee.
Young, who secured one of the two at-large seats on council, said community inclusion through access to jobs and healthy housing are his top priorities as chair of the Neighborhood and Community Services Committee. Young also said he hopes to emphasize parks and greater support for recreation centers in his new role.
Santiago-Romero said her new role as chairwoman of the public safety committee is an “exciting challenge.”
“Being the youngest councilmember, being someone that is not from a political background and an immigrant, young, queer woman, I think it’s important to prove that we can do this work,” Santiago-Romero told BridgeDetroit. “Public health and safety is a very powerful committee, as a lot of contracts go through there that impacts our quality of life. And I truly care about making sure that we have good oversight in what we’re doing.”
Returning member Tate will chair the Planning and Economic Committee.
Virtual City Council meetings will continue through March 31 to deter the spread of coronavirus under an emergency epidemic order. Meeting agendas and live and archived videos of meetings can be found on the City Clerk’s website.
However, Detroiters are already dismayed about the difficulty in finding council-related business online. Waters, the other new at-large councilmember, said during Tuesday’s council meeting that the process to find information is not intuitive.
Minister Eric Blount of Sacred Heart Baptist Church called-in to public comment on Tuesday and said the council has had a “slow start” of sharing information with citizens. The City’s website was not updated to reflect councilmembers’ pages with agendas, bios, or emails days after being sworn into office. The agenda was available only on the City Clerk’s website. Blount, like many Detroiters, said he wants to see a higher level of transparency, accountability and early warning signs from councilmembers if the City is headed in the wrong direction.
However, the new councilmembers have asked for patience and say they are determined to prioritize and address issues facing Detroit homeowners, seniors, children and veterans.
Johnson, who represents District 4, said there is an “enormous concern” for water infrastructure after homes and businesses were flooded and subjected to severe water damage after heavy rains last summer, including in her district.
“Some people are beginning to feel as though they’re been totally left out,” she said of residents who have received little, if any, reimbursement for flood damage.
Johnson said residents can look forward to a community-focused council that prioritizes the needs of residents.
“I’ve had somewhat of a relationship with many of the new, incoming councilmembers, and so I’m excited to be a partner with them, if you will, because I know we have a lot of values that align,” she said.