By Abed Hammoud
The Dearborn Charter Commission voted this week to leave the city as one ward for purposes of City Council elections, effectively rejecting the idea of dividing the city into wards. On final reading, the vote was overwhelming, with opposition from only one member of the nine-member commission. Residents pushing for a multi-ward system in Dearborn have been vocal in recent months, claiming that the current system does not provide good representation for all of Dearborn because most members of City Council live on the west side of the city. Also, proponents of the ward system often speak about the Southend (where many of them live) as being slighted by local government officials, especially the City Council.
While some residents feel their area of the city is neglected, the fact remains that most major issues facing us are common to all Dearborn neighborhoods. Take for example flooding, reckless driving, property taxes, economic development and broken infrastructure. These are major issues our government needs to tackle over the entire city. While some who speak of neglected areas often cite the Southend as an example, that area of Dearborn has actually received arguably the most attention from local elected officials in the last couple of years. For example, two of four new city parks will be created in the Southend, an updated local fugitive dust ordinance was aimed specifically at addressing air quality issues in that area in addition to state regulations and the city filed a first of its kind lawsuit against a polluter to enforce that ordinance, just to name the bigger items. Every time a Southend resident shows up to the City Council, their issue is addressed to the fullest extent possible, whether by Council or the administration.
Regardless of the merits of the ward proposal, such a major change should not be tucked inside an overhaul of the entire Charter. The proposal to revise Dearborn’s Charter, which the voters approved in 2021, was aimed at just that: “revising.” Revision is not about re-writing the City Charter or making major changes such as instituting a new ward system. Revision is about updating the Charter to match changes in state law, remove obsolete sections and modernize some sections to reflect progress in science, technology and communication, etc. Major changes such as dividing the city into wards should be handled through stand-alone proposals, which the residents can vote up or down after a vigorous campaign. Voters pay more attention to a specific issue when it is in a stand-alone proposal, instead of when it is buried among many updates to an entire Charter. If the proponents of the ward system feel that the majority of the city is with them, as they often state, they should have no trouble gathering enough signatures for a ballot proposal that they will then campaign to pass. Holding the entire Charter and its revisions hostage to either side of the ward debate is not the right thing to do. It does a disservice to the residents and jeopardizes many revisions that are important and agreed upon by most residents and officials as they are needed to modernize the Charter. Hundreds of hours of hard work were performed by the Charter Commissioners over the last two years to study for and prepare these revisions. Their time and efforts should not be wasted.
At the end of the day, every registered voter in Dearborn has the right to run for office and to vote for candidates who share his or her vision for the city. Candidates and elected officials have and will continue to campaign and visit with the residents of every area of our city, including the Southend, whether because they believe in such outreach or because it serves them politically. Let the democratic process play out and let all the voters, not a handful of residents or elected officials, decide an issue as important as dividing Dearborn into wards.
— Abed Hammoud is a former assistant U.S. Attorney and currently in private practice at Abed Hammoud Law, PLLC