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How Council by District Would Change One Neighborhood

February 17 2011 | no comments

This is a tale of two cities – the City of Detroit at the corner of Harper and Coplin, where Toni McIlwain runs a community center for nearly 40,000 residents.

And it is the tale of the City of Detroit 7 miles away – the ritzy neighborhood behind these iron gates where Toni’s nearest city council member, Saunteel Jenkins, lives.

We asked Toni how often Councilwoman Jenkins has been to the Center.  She said, “Never.”

In fact, very few council members have ever been to this community center – a bright, cheerful and vital place providing seniors with meals and activities, kids with after school programs, the homeless and jobless with computers and career counseling.  No, city council members never come here.  Well, almost never.

Toni says, “I’ve seen almost all of them when they were running.  But after the election was over – you can’t even get them on the phone.”

If only a council member lived in this neighborhood and understood the unique issues here.  From Toni’s perspective, “How are they going to understand it if they don’t live here?”

We mapquested it.  The nearest council member to Toni’s Ravendale neighborhood lives seven miles away.  In fact we plotted all the council member addresses and were surprised at what we found.  Most of the council members live in only two basic areas of Detroit – either the midtown/downtown area or northwest Detroit.  No one in east Detroit and no representation in southwest.

That explains why Detroit voters two years ago overwhelmingly approved Proposal D, calling for council by district.  That would require council members who actually live near the people they represent.

Toni says she thinks the council members will be more accountable.  “They can have more contact with the community and with the people.  They will know where the problems are and you’ll be able to go directly to one city council person about any problems that you have.”

If the council members don’t fix the problems?  Toni says citizens can either come after them or you don’t vote them back in.  It’s that simple.

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