Is there cause to reconsider the Ypsilanti City Charter?

In addition to having the Keep Ypsi Rollin’ transit millage on the ballot next week, local folks will have an opportunity to weigh in on whether or not now would be a good time to convene a Charter Commission to revise the City Charter. Following is the language of the ballot initiative.


Shall a Charter Commission be established with the purpose of writing a general revision of the Ypsilanti City Charter for submission or approval of the voters in accordance with the provisions of Michigan Law?

This, as I understand it, is on the ballot because Article 11.7 of our existing Charter requires it to be voted on every eight election cycles (sixteen years). This, I’m told, is the first time since our current Charter was adopted that it has appeared on the ballot.

Here, by way of background, is Article 11.7 of our current charter:

The question of whether there shall be a general revision of the City Charter shall be submitted to the voters of the City of Ypsilanti at the 8th general City election after the effective date of this Charter and at every 8th general City election thereafter and may be submitted at other times in the manner provided by law. Members of the Commission shall be elected at the same time as the vote on the question.

And, here, is a letter on the subject that I just received from Councilman Pete Murdock (reprinted with his permission):

To my knowledge there is no groundswell of support to have a revision of the Charter, but there has been some confusion to why this is on the ballot. Prior to the August primary, former Mayor Cheryl Farmer and former Councilmember John Gawlas as part of the mayoral campaign were spreading the rumor that I had “secretly” put this on the ballot so we could have a strong Mayor system with me as Mayor. The logic of this argument escapes me, but as you know, in politics you can say anything. Of course Cheryl should have known better, since she was an influential member on the Charter Commission that proposed our existing Charter with this provision in it.

In any event, I don’t think there is any effort to revise the Charter, but you might better ask those who are running for the Charter commission of what their motives and intentions are. At one of the forums that Paul and I appeared at, we were asked about the issue and we both expressed opposition to a Charter revision (as well as the State Con-Con for similar reasons.)

I don’t see any need for a Charter Revision Commission, there is more to be lost than gained by convening one. I am voting NO on the issue and urging others to do so also.

Perhaps you could get a discussion or at least an awareness of the issue started.

So, let’s start a discussion… Does anyone out there think it’s necessary to initiate a Charter Revision Commission? And, if so, why?

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  1. Samuel
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect to supporters, many of whom I respect, I’d like to talk about the “Keep Ypsi Rollin” millage (what a nice “folksy” name) which deserves its own thread.

    The thing that bothers me about the proposal, isn’t that it supports transit, which I also do, but that it’s a masquerade – a shell game. It’s really just a plain old tax increase. By proposing a transit millage, council et al can take transit out of the rest of the budget. If council wants to pay for transit, they can (and should). Of course, that would mean they’d have to make equivalent cuts to other services which would be unpopular.

    This is a tax increase, plain and simple. It allows council (many of whom were elected on an anti-tax increase platform) to take transit out of the general budget so they don’t have to cut as much in other areas. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and whatnot.

    It might as well be a “police millage” or “fire millage” or “park maintenance millage” or “city council salaries millage,” but those don’t have as much grassroots support or sway with local voters.

    Vote for it or not. But just know you’re not voting to protect public transit as much as cover elected officials assess. If they want to protect transit, they can at any council meeting. It’s just a tax increase, a shell game, a PR move.

    I’ll vote for a tax increase; I just don’t like being treated like a pawn.

  2. Samuel
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    P.S. Who’s gonna put a “vote no for the bus” sign on their lawn in Ypsi? The vast majority of us support transit. Hell, the vast majority of us support all or most of our public services which is part of makes Ypsi a great town. But is it really good public policy (given that expenditures vary year-to-year) to support all these things piecemeal? What’s next? Recycling millage? Parks millage? Puppies and kittens millage?

    We’ll all end up paying too much one year and too little the next.

    The best way to support transit and great public service, long term, is to support transit within every annual budget.

  3. Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    I should have mentioned it, but a post on the Keep Ypsi Rollin’ campaign is in the works. And, as it’s being written by someone who actually knows what in the hell he’s talking about (not me), I imagine that it will be quite good… As for your point, which, to be honest, hadn’t occurred to me, I’ll see that it’s addressed.

  4. Andy1313
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    It is a small tax increase, but I think it’s less an attempt to fool you into voting for a tax increase than an attempt to create a dedicated funding source for transit and end the recent year to year uncertainty surrounding Ypsilanti’s financial contribution to AATA.

  5. Knox
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Might such a commission give us the opportunity to explore Township annexation?

  6. Walt
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I am voting yes on a new charter.

    This is the perfect opportunity to get rid of the ward system and go to non-partisan races. Places like the west side that pay for the bulk of city services deserve more representation than other parts of the city.

  7. Posted October 26, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Being familiar with the charter (having supported it in 1994) and noting the City Clerk’s posting of the ballot proposal much earlier this year, I pulled a nominating petition for the Charter Commission as soon as they were available. In gathering signatures for my petition, I clearly informed folks that the proposal was mandated by the charter itself. Pete’s remarks here (voiced elsewhere by others) are simply retaliatory politics.

    As to why I advocate a NO vote on the general revision proposal, one only have to look at our not so distant past of fending off assaults on equal rights in the form of a charter amendment. We do not want to open our community up to another assault by outside interests with a virilent agenda.

    So please vote YES on the public transit charter amendment and vote NO on the proposal to convene a charter commission. As a candidate for charter commission I am preemptively voting to deny myself this position.

  8. Edward
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I will be voting no on this as well. I think we’ve got too much on our collective plate at the moment to open up yet another can of worms.

  9. Kim
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    As it’s somewhat related, I thought that I’d pass this along.


    The Ypsilanti City Council will hold discussion of their annual Goals on the following dates in 2010. All meetings will be held at SPARK East, 215 W. Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti, MI 48197:

    Tuesday, November 9th from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

    Tuesday, November 23rd from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

    Tuesday, December 14th from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

    Tuesday, January 18th from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (TENATATIVE)

    The City of Ypsilanti encourages persons with disabilities to participate and will provide necessary reasonable auxiliary aids and services, such as signers and audiotapes of printed materials being considered at the meeting to individuals with disabilities at the meeting upon two (2) days notice to the City. Individuals requiring auxiliary aids or services should contact the City by writing or calling the following:

    City Clerk’s Office
    One South Huron St.
    Ypsilanti, MI 48197-5400
    (734) 483-1100

  10. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry Samuel, I just don’t see how this is a hidden tax increase. Yes, it is a tax increase, but really, if you look at the net tax burden within the city, residents are still seeing a net cut. I guess if you don’t know what a millage is, you can say it’s a hidden tax, but I think that most people (that care enough to vote, anyway) know that generally speaking millage = tax increase.

    The other thing that you should keep in mind is that there is no public transit budget at all currently in Ypsilanti. It was cut along with everything else, because there is no money. Our service for this year and next is being covered by Stimulus Money given to the AATA. There is nowhere to squeeze any more money from in the city budget, unless you want Ypsi to stop mowing the grass, picking up trash, putting out fires, and arresting bad guys. City council made a choice between AATA funding (and plenty of other stuff) and Police/Fire/Sanitation. Nobody’s super happy about finding ourselves in this situation, but hey, at least we didn’t get blind sided like A2 and lots of other cities, where city government just suddenly realized they were running out of money

    You say it might as well be a police millage, or fire millage, or what ever. Well, yes, it could be, and had City Council chosen to cut one of those things instead of AATA funding, it probably would be. In this case, taxes are not being increased by the millage, the millage is stopping taxes from being lowered under as required by the Headlee amendment and dedicates that revenue to transit and only transit. The Headlee amendment, in part, states that cities must lower their millage rate if the tax rate on existing property increases so that they revenue collected, adjusted for inflation, stays the same. In example, if the tax base goes from $1,000,000 to $1,100,000 and the tax is one mil, the millage rate would need to be lowered to .909 mils so that the revenue collected remains $1000. Votes like this are taken all over the state to direct revenue already being collected to budget items that need it, instead of creating a new millage. I guess you could call it a shell game or a hidden tax, but this is how we are required to do things by the state constitution.

    So, yea, I’m all about calling out City Council when they do something stupid or shady, but I don’t really see it here. If you really don’t like how it’s being done, I would suggest you support the call for a Constitutional Convention in Michigan, because that’s pretty much the only way to change it now. As for changing the city’s charter, no I don’t really see the point of changing it now. As cities go in Michigan, our city is pretty darn functional, and so is our city government. (You can take that as a cometary on the state of the state if you like) And I kind of agree with John, who know what someone might try to teabag into our charter. I’m pretty sure EOS is in the township though, so at least we’ve dodged one bullet.

  11. John Galt
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    What if we change the charter to allow indentured servitude, creating a peasant class that could, among other things, pull our buses?

  12. John Galt
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    The most important thing is to keep taxes low. The best run countries are the ones without taxes and infrastructure. They only serve to slow down the entrepreneurial spirit.

  13. Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes, this is true. Somalia is a great place to start a business.

  14. Posted October 26, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    There are certainly weaknesses in the current City Charter that could be fixed, such as the ward system and partisan vs. non-partisan election options, but I don’t see any possibility of improvement coming out of the Charter Commission dominated by the very folks who created the current Charter.

    For that reason, and because the city really doesn’t have the time or the money to spend on this right now I am recommending a “No” vote.

    More on this and a list of declared “write-in” candidates for the Charter Commission can be found at

  15. Kate Conat
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    @John Gawlas: Cheryl Farmer told me, personally, that there was a “secret ballot initiative” started by Pete Murdock to put the charter on the ballot this fall. It was late in the evening when she called and I was tired, so instead of realizing right away that she should have known this was up for a vote because the charter itself called for it, I asked her from whom she had received this information. She cited you, John. The words “secret ballot initiative” are hers and she said you were the source of the information that this was being instigated by Pete.

    The next day, after a full night’s sleep, I realized this couldn’t possibly have been the case, because of the directive in the charter, itself. Cheryl’s reason for calling me that night was because she wanted me to hurry and pull petitions to get myself on the charter commission. I told her I didn’t have the time, nor the inclination, and saw no need to reopen the charter.

    John, if you really didn’t start that malicious and specious rumor, then you were used as a scapegoat. Either way, there is no need to reopen the charter and I will be voting a big, strong NO. But, pulling Pete’s name into this was sleazy and I would like to get to the source of that rumor just so I can know who is prone to lying around here.

  16. Elf
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Has Cheryl done anything good for the city? I’m just wondering.

    Water Street
    Closing the Freight House
    Tearing down the Paper Mill

  17. Samuel
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink


    I hear you and understand all your points. My issue is not with raising taxes or supporting transit. It’s with the dedicated millage. Why shouldn’t every item in the budget be given a dedicated millage? My answer is that its can end up being a terrible way to budget. If there’s an unexpected surplus in one area and a shortfall in another, you’re stuck. It also can remove the incentive to economize if you have extra funds (ever work for a department that tried to spend all their allocations at year’s end to avoid looking like they had too much money?)

    I would much, much prefer a tax increase that went into the general fund so that city hall (which I agree, does a fine job, generally) had the flexibility to fully fund transit as well as other services — whatever that meant for any given year.

  18. Posted October 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    OK, we’ve started a new thread on the front page for the discussion of the transportation millage. If you have any other comments on that particular subject, please make them in that thread. [I’ve moved the comments by Samuel and Andy over already.]

  19. Mr. X
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Former Mayor Cheryl Farmer sent the following to our neighborhood association this morning.

    Dear Friends and Neighbors.,

    There are two City Charter related issues on the ballot this November for the citizens of Ypsilanti. The first would establish a Charter Commission to REVISE our City Charter.

    I encourage everyone to VOTE NO on CHARTER REVISION.

    Why is Charter revision on the ballot? The Charter itself requires us to vote on it automatically every 8 election cycles. Speaking as a former Charter Commissioner and as the Mayor who implemented our Charter when it was brand new, I think this document has served our community well. It set the tone for good government by having the Josephson’s Principles for Ethical Government in the preamble. It brought stability to the process of government with longer terms of office, and increased social justice through the creation of a Human Relations Commission, among other improvements. I am not aware of any problems in the current Charter that need to be fixed, so let’s keep it as is.
    So why is my name on the ballot? I am on stand-by to help our community with the re-writing of the Charter if the majority of Ypsilantians wish to revise our charter, which I hope they will not want to do. I know this is odd to ask you to elect me and then eliminate my job, but this is how State Law is written for Charter Commissions. The vote to have a commission or not, and the slate of candidates, all appear on the same ballot. Please vote for me and for the other four community minded people on the ballot. But then please VOTE NO ON THE CHARTER REVISION ISSUE.

    The other City Charter related issue on the ballot would AMEND our City Charter to dedicate a tax levy of .9789 mills for public transit.

    I encourage everyone to VOTE YES on the PUBLIC TRANSIT CHARTER AMENDMENT.

    Good public transportation makes a community more liveable. It provides options for those too young to drive to get to the library, to school, or to a friend’s house. It empowers those who cannot afford a car with a means of getting to school or to a job. Good public transportation enables older people to continue to live their lives fully even when they are no longer able to drive. This last advantage will soon become increasingly important as my demographic, the Baby Boomers, begins to age out!

    In summary, please consider voting NO on CHARTER REVISION, but YES on the CHARTER AMENDMENT for PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. Thank you.

    Cheryl Farmer

  20. Ypsiosaurus Wrecks
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Looks like we will be revising our city charter. Surprizing that Gawles and other past and precent members of the ship of fools that is city hall encouraged a “No” vote.

    I think this is a great opportunity to help improve this very broken city. There is plenty that is wrong with Ypsi to make it worth the time and effort.

  21. Mr. X
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure how it passed, but it did, and the commission will begin looking into possible changes to suggest a week from today. Here are the details.

    The Ypsilanti Charter Commission will hold its first meeting on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. at the Haabs Building, located at 111 N. Huron Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan.

    The City of Ypsilanti encourages persons with disabilities to participate and will provide necessary reasonable auxiliary aids and services, such as signers and audiotapes of printed materials being considered at the meeting to individuals with disabilities at the meeting upon two (2) days notice to the City. Individuals requiring auxiliary aids or services should contact the City by writing or calling the following:

    City Clerk’s Office
    One South Huron St.
    Ypsilanti, MI 48197-5400
    (734) 483-1100

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