Detroit Consent Agreement May Violate State Constitution

By Editorial Columnist Greg Murray

On Tuesday, May 1, 2012, I appeared before the Detroit City Council to share my belief that the so-called “consent” agreement between the state and Detroit actually violates the Headlee Amendment.

It is my position that the “consent” agreement included unconditional terms Detroit had no choice but to acquiesce to.  One of those requirements was the creation of 11 brand new city positions.  Those positions include the nine members of the “financial advisory board”, and two others….the “chief financial officer” and a “project management director.”  These positions previously did not exist within Detroit municipal government.  There were no existing funds within Detroit’s 2011-2012 budget to pay for these positions.

To facilitate the creation of these positions, the Detroit City Council was required to develop and approve not only the job descriptions, but was also required to set a salary range for the two executive level positions.  Including staff, the approximated total unfunded positions, staffing, and office expenses totaled more than $1.25 million, all at a time when layoff notices were being sent throughout the city’s unionized workforce.

That $1.25 million is on top of the $137 million in new debt the state “allowed” the city to borrow to get out of the debt they are already in. Huh? More about that boondoggle later….

This is where the intrigue continues….the following is an excerpt from the Headlee Amendment, which was approved in November 1978 as an amendment to Article IX of the Michigan constitution:

“Sec. 29.

The state is hereby prohibited from reducing the state financed proportion of the necessary costs of any existing activity or service required of units of Local Government by state law. A new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service beyond that required by existing law shall not be required by the legislature or any state agency of units of Local Government, unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the unit of Local Government for any necessary increased costs. The provision of this section shall not apply to costs incurred pursuant to Article VI, Section 18.”

Apparently, my statement struck a chord with the Detroit City Council.  At the urging of Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, the Council immediately referred the issue to its law department for an opinion on my assertion that the consent agreement violated the Headlee Amendment.

Shortly thereafter, the Detroit City Council held a two-hour long closed session to discuss the potential violation of not only the Headlee Amendment, but whatever else may be a violation of state law or the newly-adopted, 2012 Detroit City charter.

On May 11, Krystal A. Crittendon, Detroit’s Corporation Counsel, issued an opinion that the “consent” agreement is “void” and “unenforceable,” but that opinion did not reference the Headlee Amendment.  Maybe Crittendon is keeping her powder dry on Headlee, but her shot across the bow has shaken things up considerably.  A phone conference between Crittendon, State Treasurer Andy Dillon, and Michigan Attorney Bill Shuette is scheduled for this week.  No one expects any of the three to back down…stay tuned!


Greg Murray

Greg Murray is a civil rights activist, former school board president, as well as the vice president and administrative representative for the Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraiser’s Association, a labor union for city of Detroit workers