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Detroit ballot proposal faces anonymous challenge

Jul 4, 2016

A proposed Detroit city ordinance is facing a well-organized, but so far anonymous, challenge.

A coalition gathered more than 5,000 signatures in favor a community benefits ordinance.

The ordinance would require large-scale developments that receive public money or use public land to return some benefits to surrounding communities.

Developers would need to negotiate binding agreements with community groups. Benefits could include anything from employment preference for neighborhood residents, to health and safety measures.

Last week, the Detroit city clerk found the campaign gathered more than enough valid signatures, per the city charter. That started the clock for the City Council to act on the proposal within 60 days, or send it on to the November ballot.

But the Detroit law firm Honigman Miller, representing unnamed clients, immediately challenged that finding.

Mark Brewer, attorney for the coalition supporting the ordinance, says the challenge, which “alleges all kinds of defects” with the petitions, should not be anonymous.

“The law in Michigan is very clear that a group which supports or opposes a ballot proposal is supposed to file a ballot question committee with the local authorities,” said Brewer. “They’re supposed to disclose the source of their funding, what they’re spending their money on.

“So far as we’re aware, there’s been no such filing. So we don’t know who are the anonymous people or organizations behind this challenge.”

But whoever it is, this kind of effort “takes planning, that takes money,” Brewer said. “So this is not something that just sprang up overnight.”

Business leaders and some in city government, including the quasi-public Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, have expressed concerns that mandatory community benefits agreements could be burdensome, and slow development momentum in the city.

Brewer says the coalition is waiting for the city clerk to made a determination on the challenge before it decides its next move. That should happen in the next couple of days.