Grosse Pointe Woods voters asked to weigh in on charter change

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 13, 2021


GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Grosse Pointe Woods city officials are asking voters to approve two proposals on the November ballot that would change daily government operations to be more like communities that are helmed by a city manager, not a city administrator, which is what the Woods has now.

Although City Administrator Bruce Smith wouldn’t be getting a new title — that would have required too many changes to the charter — he would, in essence, function as a city manager if the proposals are approved.

The most significant change would be that the city clerk and treasurer would report to, and be supervised by, the city administrator. Now, the clerk and treasurer report directly to the Woods City Council and are independent of the city administrator. The council would still appoint the city clerk and treasurer, as well as establish their salaries.

Smith affirmed that, saying that the hiring and firing of treasurer and city clerk would still fall under the council’s purview.

If approved, the charter would also be amended to read, “The Council may by ordinance provide that any administrative officer or department of the city except the Assessor and Attorney shall, for administrative purposes, be placed under the supervision of the City Administrator.”

“It’s going to help things run better at the city,” Mayor Art Bryant said. “For years, we have been run under a city administrator.”

Bryant said the proposal wouldn’t cost the city any money to implement.

The other four Grosse Pointes, and many other cities in metro Detroit, are run by a city manager, who oversees all of the department heads in the municipality.

“It would streamline communication (and) lines of authority,” Smith said of the ballot proposals.

Bryant said one of the challenges is that, even though the treasurer and city clerk are supposed to be managed by the City Council, most of the council members aren’t at City Hall to be able to address day-to-day concerns.

“We aren’t here every day, and we don’t see what’s going on and we can’t run the offices,” Bryant said.

Not everyone thinks the measures would better the city. City Clerk Lisa Kay Hathaway, who would be directly impacted by the measure, has some reservations, should these proposals pass.

“There are currently five appointed officials, including the city clerk, the city administrator, the treasurer, the city assessor and the city attorney — all of whom report to the City Council and all of whom are guided by statutory requirements at the federal, state and local levels for which we all take an oath to uphold,” said Hathaway by phone after her regular office hours. “I have been with the city of Grosse Pointe Woods for 28 years and city clerk for the last 15 years. In my role as city clerk, statutory requirements include election administration, Open Meetings Act (compliance), Freedom of Information Act (administration), Zoning Enabling Act and those promulgated in the city code, such as various licensing, noticing of public hearings and much more. My predecessor and I both have reported to the City Council, while working closely with the mayor, City Council members and the city administrator to ensure the efficient administration of the City Clerk’s Office in accordance with the various laws, and those proposed charter amendments will affect the checks and balances in administration.”

Shawn Murphy wears two hats for the city, as the treasurer and as the comptroller. When doing comptroller work, she reports to the city administrator under the current charter, but when doing work as the treasurer, she does not.

The proposals would have no impact on the city attorney or assessor, both of whom would remain independent of the city administrator.

Informational posters that show the current charter language and how that would change if the proposals are adopted will be posted at each of the city’s polling precincts for voters to read.

To take effect, both ballot proposals — one of which references the city clerk and one of which references the treasurer — would need to be approved by voters. If only one is approved, the charter amendment would fail.

“I’m optimistic it will be approved, so that it reflects what is done in so many other cities,” Smith said.