Crain’s Detroit: After-school millage backers regroup, work with county to get issue on future ballot

by Sherri Welch

  • Wayne County Commission raised issues that kept measure from March 10 ballot
  • Petition targeted wrong ballot, missed county deadline
  • County works with group to move initiative forward

The group behind the failed effort to place an after-school millage on the Wayne County’s March 10 ballot is working with the Wayne County Commission to get the proposal on a future ballot.

It will mean resolving a host of procedural, policy and legal issues raised by the commission to put the measure before voters.

Despite securing nearly 90,000 signatures, or nearly double the number required by the state’s Dec. 3 deadline for ballot petitions, the measure failed to make the March ballot.

Wayne County officials said the group filed the ballot petition with the clerk’s office in early December but failed to follow procedures laid out in the Wayne County charter. Those rules called for filing the petition two months earlier and a Wayne County Commission review of the measure, among other requirements.

Wayne County Commission counsel Felicia Johnson laid out the missed county deadline and other issues with the ballot initiative in a Dec. 19 letter sent to Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett and the Wayne County Election Commission and forwarded to the Wayne Kids Win! ballot committee.

Among the issues was the ballot committee’s attempt to place the proposal on the March ballot. The Wayne County charter stipulates that ballot petition initiatives are governed by the state’s constitution and law, Johnson wrote. As part of that, ballot proposals that have to collect signatures can only appear on general election ballots.

Additionally, the signatures submitted to the clerk’s office for verification were turned in too late, she said. While the ballot committee met the Dec. 3 state deadline, it missed by more than two months a Wayne County deadline that requires petitions to be submitted to the clerk’s office160 days before the election, which would have been early October.

Under the county’s process, the county clerk must then verify signatures and the Wayne County Election Commission must certify the ballot proposal within 60 days, before moving it to the county commission for review, Johnson said in the letter.

The timing of the Wayne Kids Win! ballot submission left less than 100 days for the Wayne County process to take place.

The missed county deadline prevented the Wayne County Commission from reviewing and enacting or rejecting the proposal.

“This petition is not yet ripe to go to any ballot, including the March 10 Presidential Primary ballot, because it has not been considered and rejected by the county commission,” Johnson said in the letter.

“… The Wayne County Commission insists that its role in the initiative process be respected and followed, and then, if it rejects this proposal, then it may be considered for placement on the November 2020, general election ballot, if at all,” she said.

Beyond the procedural issues, the proposed ordinance included in the Wayne Kids Win! ballot proposal presents eight legal and policy concerns, Johnson said.

Among them is the absence of a formula for equitable distribution of the fund among organizations in the county’s 43 communities.

““The one mill millage proposed by community leaders to provide high quality after-school programming for Wayne County children is much needed and well-intended,” said Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell in a statement emailed to Crain’s.

“Unfortunately, the millage as structured — along with a proposed county ordinance associated with it — do not meet various Wayne County Charter, Michigan State Constitution and other statutory requirements.”

Expanding access to after-school programs can help kids across Wayne County achieve, succeed and obtain the skills they need to compete for jobs, Bell said.

“We are working with Wayne Kids Win! to find the best way to move this initiative forward.”

Wayne Afterschool Partnership, the ballot committee behind the initiative, remains committed to increasing access to after-school programs for all kids in Wayne County, said Mark Fisk, spokesman for the Wayne Kids Win! campaign, on Friday.

It is regrouping and working with the county commission to place the after-school millage proposal on a future ballot, he said.

“We are totally open to discussing any concerns, big or small, (that) the commission may have … so we can make this happen and bring this question to the voters.”

The committee worked with local attorney Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, managing partner of The Miller Law Firm Detroit, to develop the ballot proposal, Fisk said.

It’s not yet clear whether the tens of thousands of signatures already collected for the Wayne Kids Win! ballot petition will stand, he said.

“Our hope is to take the signatures and proposal we have and use it to put it on a future ballot, again, working collaboratively with the county to do that,” Fisk said.

The county clerk’s office is continuing to verify the signatures on the Wayne Kids Win! ballot petition, said Lisa Williams, director of communications for the county clerk’s office, in an email.

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