Proposal P will be on the Detroit ballot this upcoming Tuesday but the Supreme Court may decide the fate of the measure. (Shutterstock photo)

With less than a week before the Aug. 3 primary, Detroit’s Proposal P was given the green light to be voted on by Detroiters.


On Thursday afternoon, the Michigan Supreme Court decided to allow Detroit voters to either reject or support the proposal. The ruling reverses lower court decisions that would have prevented voting on the measure.

Meanwhile, Detroiters are seeing a blizzard of ads by both opponents and supporters to persuade voters. Here’s a refresher of what the measure is about and its legal challenges.

Proposal P would upend Detroit’s government

Proposal P would revise the City Charter. A charter for any municipality is its blueprint, or its constitution, on how to operate. It defines the organization, powers and procedures of Detroit’s government. 

The revised charter in Proposal P is a major break with the past. Voting “no” on the measure would mean rejecting the proposal and keeping the current charter — which was updated in 2012 — in effect as is. Voting “yes” on the ballot would approve of overhauling the charter and making major changes to City government.

The nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan did a lengthy analysis of the proposed charter, and here is one of the conclusions by the policy research group: “It is a charter driven by an almost exclusive focus on progressive governmental reforms without equal attention dedicated to efficient governmental function and structure.”

The revised charter seeks more than 100 changes to address everything from crumbling sidewalks, water shutoffs and a citywide recycling program to affordable housing measures, immigration rights and City contract procedures. At times, it calls for singular demands, such as a monument to former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, and other times reaches for broad reform in immmigration and police training. 

It would create 47 new elected positions and 102 new appointed positions, according to the Citizens Research Council analysis. Many of those new positions would help shape policy and dilute the “strong mayor” form of Detroit government. The City has had a strong mayor form of government since the early 1800s. 

There are many influential opponents against Proposal P, including Mayor Mike Duggan, former Mayor Dennis Archer, the Rev. Horace Sheffield, and groups representing retired City employees, including police.

Supporters of Proposal P include The Detroit People’s Platform, which is  leading the People’s Charter for a Better Detroit Prop P Campaign. Supporters include Detroit Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López, Detroit Charter Revision Commissioner JoAnna Underwood and City Clerk candidate Denzel McCampbell, among others.

The fiscal impact of the proposed charter is hotly contested. In April, the Duggan administration released a “fiscal impact study” declaring the changes would bankrupt the City, costing as much as $2 billion over four years. The City estimates the charter changes would cost $488 million in the first year, about half Detroit’s current annual budget.

The Citizens Research Council says the City study describes the worst-case scenario. The nonprofit found that Proposal P would likely “affect the efficiency of city government operations and come with a financial cost.” 

The most influential critic is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. On April 30, she rejected the revised charter and said the proposal had “serious legal deficiencies.” She concluded the many new demands could spark another financial crisis and return Detroit to bankruptcy. 

Whitmer’s refusal to endorse Proposal P set off a monthslong legal battle. At one point, the measure was taken off the ballot and then put back on again during earlier decisions by lower courts. Then, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to take up the case. Oral arguments for the case were made to the high court on July 7.

The Supreme Court decided Whitmer’s rejection wasn’t enough to prevent it from being voted on by Detroit residents.

The proposal is already printed on ballots, including absentee ballots that have been mailed out to some voters.

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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