WARREN — A group seeking to cut the number of Warren City Council members and divide the city into legislative districts has apparently met the first requirement for getting its proposals on the November ballot.
On Aug. 10, Warren City Clerk Paul Wojno said his staff had finished reviewing petitions circulated by the Warren Tea Party bearing approximately 5,700 signatures, 4,945 of which were determined to be valid. The petitions were originally submitted on Aug. 4, after which Wojno said the names were checked against qualified voter records on file locally and with the state of Michigan.
The Warren Tea Party, which is not affiliated with the national tea party movement or any other group bearing that name, was required to collect signatures from 5 percent of the city’s registered electorate within a one-year period as the initial step toward putting its charter-amending proposals before Warren voters.
The group announced the petition drive in May and its proposals, if approved, would give voters the chance to alter Warren’s charter by separating the city into five legislative districts based on population. It would also reduce the number of Warren City Council members from nine to seven, with five council members elected from and representing the individual districts. The remaining two elected members of the City Council would serve in an at-large capacity, with the highest at-large vote getter designated as the city’s mayor pro tem, according to the plan.
“Right off the bat it’s going to save the taxpayers money by reducing two council members who make approximately $30,000 a year. They also have benefits that they make,” Warren Tea Party director Michael Bertollini said. “It’s also going to provide direct representation for everybody in the city.”
Bertollini, who said he lives in north Warren, pointed out that all current members of the Warren City Council live north of I-696. With candidates representing individual districts, he said the voters would know whom to go to — and whom to hold accountable — for issues affecting their neighborhoods.
“I just think that overall this is going to make city government more streamlined and more directly accountable to the people,” Bertollini said. “I think that everybody is always asking, ‘You’re from the northern side of the city. Why do you necessarily care that the south side doesn’t have any representation?’ I’ve never looked at it as a north versus south issue. I look at is as more direct representation for the entire city.”
In terms of raw numbers, Wojno said the group was required to collect at least 4,849 signatures from qualified Warren voters.
While the amount originally submitted surpassed that amount by more than 800 signatures, Wojno said only 5,032 signatures were validated as being those of registered Warren voters. When the petition forms themselves were examined further, the number dropped to 4,945, the result of duplicate signatures, improper dates, and in one case, because the circulator of a petition was not a registered Michigan voter.
There had previously been some uncertainty as to the number of signatures required. Michigan’s Home Rule City Act lists that number as 5 percent, while a section of Warren’s charter dealing with an “initiative or a “referendary petition” puts the number at 15 percent.
An opinion drafted through the office of the Warren City Attorney at Wojno’s request seemingly confirmed the 5 percent requirement, indicating that the charter section that listed the 15 percent requirement applied to the “adoption or repeal of ordinances rather than Charter amendments.”
With the validation of signatures through his office complete, Wojno said he would send the language of the petition to the office of Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox for approval. He said the language would also need to meet with the approval of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
When and if it is approved, and barring any local legal challenges related to the petition’s language, its signatures, or circumstances for collecting them, the language would be forwarded to the office of Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh for inclusion on the November ballot.
Wojno said the deadline to submit approved ballot language to Sabaugh’s office is Aug. 24.
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