Referendum petitions seek people’s vote on 40-year SALE of DWSD property, $6 billion in revenues to regional Great Lakes Water Authority
15,000+ signatures must be turned in to City Clerk, according to state law
GLWA would increase water shut-offs, rates, foreclosures resulting from water bills attached to property bills
Water quality crisis looms as Authority eliminates thousands of experienced City of Detroit workers, in addition those already gone
Detroit City Council rejected water rate increase June 30, now set to re-consider it July 7; GLWA will take over that role in future
By Diane Bukowski
July 3, 2014
DETROIT – A fight has begun to stop the takeover of Detroit’s $6 billion Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) by the regional Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), through a Detroit electoral referendum. The city’s “Mayor” Mike Duggan signed the takeover contract between the City of Detroit and the Great Lakes Water Authority June 12.
The Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA) distributed the first petitions for the vote at its packed Prayer Breakfast June 22, held at Calvary Presbyterian Church, featuring Rev. David Bullock as its keynote speaker. DAREA’s membership includes many active and retired DWSD workers. DAREA first endorsed the campaign June 15, and has since been joined by many more organizations as members of “The Coalition to Save Detroit’s Water & Sewerage Department.”
The ballot language on the petitions asks for a NO or a YES vote on whether Detroiters “approve this contract which states it is a ‘BILL OF SALE’ of personal property and all revenues of the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) to a regional, unelected Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), including a representative of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, for at least 40 years. It includes an option for GLWA to SELL DWSD real property.”
GLWA’s six member board includes representatives from the State of Michigan, Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, as well as Detroit. The counties of St. Clair, Lapeer, Genesee, Washtenaw, and Monroe, which would be part of the GLWA system, have no representation.
“Each of us should be a warrior in this fight,” DAREA president Bill Davis said at the breakfast. “We have made tremendous progress. Each day is more promising than the day before. If we can fight, we can win.”
He referred not only to the referendum campaign, but to DAREA’s U.S. District Court appeal of the Detroit bankruptcy plan, which includes the GLWA.
DAREA just filed a supplemental brief in that appeal, citing the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that pension protections in that state’s constitution, virtually identical to Michigan’s, cannot be abridged. The court ruled that pensions are considered more than just contracts, and that the constitution represents “the will of the people.”
“The Our Water Our Vote campaign is directly tied to the fight to stop water shut-offs, rate increases, and foreclosures caused by the attachment of water bills to property tax bills,” noted another DAREA member at the prayer breakfast. “The GLWA contract allows it to continue water shut-offs, while possibly spreading them throughout the region. It has no true water affordability plan. The GLWA will have the sole authority to increase rates to pay off the $5.2 billion DWSD debt. The debt is expected to skyrocket as board members, in particular from the State of Michigan and Oakland County, bring their contractor cronies on board.”
On June 30, Detroit’s City Council voted 6-2 to reject a water and sewerage rate increase for the City of Detroit June 30, but is now set to reconsider the vote at its next committee of the whole meeting Tues. July 7 at 10 a.m. At least one Wall Street ratings agency must approve the GLWA contract before it is enacted.
Gary Brown, Vice-Chair of the GLWA and also the City of Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer under Duggan, told the Detroit News the Council’s failure to approve the rate increases may make Wall Street uneasy.
“The lease was signed, but it’s contingent upon bond holders consent,” he said. According to the contract, 51 percent of DWSD bondholders must approve the contract before it is enacted. At least one Wall Street ratings agency must guarantee that it will not give the GLWA bond ratings lower than those currently in effect for DWSD.
Tom Barrow, former Detroit mayoral candidate and head of Citizens for Detroit’s Future (CFDF), said of the Our Water Our Vote referendum campaign, “This is HUGE.”
CFDF has joined the “Coalition to Save Detroit’s Water & Sewerage Department #OurWaterOurVote.” The Detroit City Clerk declared May 28 that Barrow’s organization gathered sufficient valid petition signatures to put an “Election Reform” ordinance on the ballot, which would create an independent, elected city Election Commission.
Other initial endorsers of the OurWaterOurVote campaign include We the People of Detroit, Moratorium NOW! the Detroit Water Brigade, StandUP Now, the Russell-Woods Sullivan Neighborhood Association, and Baxter’s Beat Back the Bullies Brigade.
Additionally, The Detroit People’s Water Board Coalition said it disagrees with the decision to transfer oversight of the DWSD to the GLWA for reasons including: “(1) the detrimental effect it will have on Detroit residents who continue to bear the burden of infrastructure costs without full system control; (2) the failure by local authorities to implement the 2005 Water Affordability Plan which provides for low income affordable payment plans and conservation efforts; (3) the circumvention of democratic proceedings in the development of the GLWA; (4) the failure of all parties to protect water as a human right and as a public trust; (5) the continued threat of privatization of Great Lakes water, which should be held in common; and (6) the implicit entitlement by the GLWA to assume DWSD ownership rights after the Detroit-paid water system was expanded at the request of suburban communities to serve their needs.”
The proposed takeover, which has a drop-dead date of Jan. 1, 2016, will also further endanger the quality of water provided to residents of the six counties. Hundreds of experienced DWSD workers, most of them Detroit residents, have already been laid off, including skilled trades workers. More cutbacks are expected under the GLWA’s plan to prioritize debt payments to the banks before good water service to its customers.
In 2014, DWSD workers reported that that workforce cuts enacted by consultant EMA, which now runs the Wastewater Treatment Plant, caused the massive flooding of metro Detroit freeways and homes Aug. 11 to Aug. 12, leading to three deaths and untold property damage, as well as Toledo, Ohio water emergency that began Aug 3. During the weeks-long crisis, 430,000 residents of that city and parts of southeastern Michigan could not use municipal water to drink, bathe, cook, or wash dishes as it was contaminated with toxic algae and other substances.
“They have reduced staffing to a skeleton crew,” AFSCME Local 207 officer Mike Mulholland said at the time. “Although there was a torrential rain Monday, the sewage pumps already were not working properly due to minimal maintenance. It is EMA’s intention to strip the plant down and run it remotely as much as it can. Instead of 24/7 maintenance, they only check equipment every few days. The pumping stations at the plant, the incinerators, and other equipment are close to catastrophic failure.”
DAREA President Bill Davis retired after 34 years from DWSD, as a WWTP shift supervisor. He said at that time that at least three major WWTP sewage pumps were not operating.
“Monies that should have been allocated to improvements in our infrastructure and helped employ people went to the banks in illegal deals instead,” Davis said then. “That $5 billion going to the banks under the bankruptcy plan should instead be going to the people, to rebuild our system.”
The Our Water Our Vote referendum is allowed under Public Act 233 of 1955, cited in the first paragraph of the contract between Detroit and the GLWA as the state law which authorizes the contract. PA 233 of 1955, 124.288 Sec. 8(2), says,
“If within the 45-day period [after public newspaper notice] a petition signed by not less than 10% or 15,000, whichever is less, of the registered electors residing within the limits of the municipality is filed with the clerk of the municipality requesting a referendum upon the contract, the contract shall not become effective until approved by the vote of a majority of the qualified electors of the municipality voting on the question at a general or special election.”
The act specifies that the petitions are to be filed with the clerk of the municipality. The Our Water Our Vote campaign is therefore not being conducted under the Detroit City Charter, but under state law.
One opponent of the effort said he believed it would “go nowhere” because of the bankruptcy ruling. However, while U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven Rhodes overruled Michigan’s constitutional pension protection clauses with regard to Detroit retirees, he did not overrule all other legislation passed in the State of Michigan.
Click on BLOW THE GREAT LAKES WATER AUTHORITY OUT OF THE WATER 3 for PDF of front of flier; PDF of Instructions for Circulation is at INSTRUCTIONS FOR CIRCULATING (includes contact information to obtain petitions and turn them in.)
Download a copy of the petition itself by clicking on REFERENDUM ON CITY OF DETROIT CONTRACT PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION 4. It is permissible to make your own copies of the petition, as long as they are complete.
The Coalition needs to collect a total of 15,000 valid petition signatures within 45 days of public (newspaper) notice of the contract, meaning it must collect at least twice that to allow for invalid signatures. Signers must be Detroit residents who are registered voters. CIRCULATORS DO NOT HAVE TO BE DETROIT RESIDENTS.
The Coalition’s Facebook Page is at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-to-Save-Detroits-Water-Sewerage-Department/1443509195955743?fref=ts