Our Water Our Vote

People of Detroit have rallied for the human right to water, which will be further endangered by the creation of a regional Great Lakes Water Authority

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 

#OurWaterOurVote; #WATERISLIFE#StandUpNow; @WeThePeopleDet; @Detroit2700plus; @DETWaterBrigade; #DetroitWater; #Right2Water; #Detroit2Flint@MCHumanRights; @PeoplesWaterDet; @ACLUofMichigan

 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.

PB applause DB 6 27 15

Part of the crowd of people who packed Calvary Presbyterian Church for DAREA prayer breakfast fundraiser June 27, 2015.

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.

DAREA officers (l to r) Cecily McClellan, Yvonne Williams-Jones, and Bill Davis present one of six WARRIOR awards to Monica Lewis-Patrick of We the People of Detroit, during prayer breakfast June 27, 2015.

DAREA officers (l to r) Cecily McClellan, Yvonne Williams-Jones, and Bill Davis present one of six WARRIOR awards to Monica Lewis-Patrick of We the People of Detroit, during prayer breakfast June 27, 2015. We the People of Detroit is also a member of the referendum campaign.

“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.”

Rev. David Bullock of Rainbow:PUSH speaks at DAREA prayer breakfast. He said, "We have never lost a battle that we fought; we have never won a battle we didn't fight."

Rev. David Bullock of Rainbow:PUSH speaks at DAREA prayer breakfast. He said, “We have never lost a battle that we fought; we have never won a battle we didn’t fight.”

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.”

Tom Barrow, head of Citizens for Detroit's Future

Tom Barrow, head of Citizens for Detroit’s Future

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.

Drivers on Detroit freeway wade to safety Aug. 11, 2014, after massive flooding of roads and homes.

Drivers on Detroit freeway wade to safety Aug. 11, 2014, after massive flooding of roads and homes.

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.

Mike Mulholland at informational picket outside DWSD Huber plant. EMA recommended that 81% of the DWSD workforce be cut, and has proceeded to do so.

Mike Mulholland at informational picket outside DWSD Huber plant in 2012. EMA recommended that 81% of the DWSD workforce be cut, and has proceeded to do so.

“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.”

At prayer breakfast, children to whom Detroit water is life: (l to r) Christa Dailey, 7, Alyse Dailey, 8, Amiah Sanders, 11; in rear, Ramona Hall and Tayla Dailey, 10.

At prayer breakfast, children to whom Detroit water is life: (l to r) Christa Dailey, 7, Alyse Dailey, 8, Amiah Sanders, 11; in rear, Ramona Hall and Tayla Dailey, 10.

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.

Click on Referendum language in PA 233 of 1955 to read portion of act related to this campaign. Click on mcl-Act-233-of-1955 for entire act.

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.

Flier for the Detroit Coalition to Save Detroit's Water & Sewerage Department.


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

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  1. This is a orchestrated ploy, by not performing regular maintenance the current administration has endangered not only the lives of Detroiters( all the non-working hydrants that DFD depends on to protect YOUR property) but also suburban customers who are a captive consumer. I was astonished at the condition of the department after 15 years. I would never have thought that a self sustaining entity like DWSD could be driven so far into dis-repair. Why was this done, that is the big question and I think the answer is to prove to region that Detroit, and the Detroiters that are running the system are incompetent and the system (DWSD) needs to be removed from their control before it falls even further into state of dis-repair. This was done by Elected and Appointed officials, some who have no business or experience running a public owned utility that provides safe drinking water and sewage treatment to most of southeast Michigan. There are crimes that were committed in this act, will the perpetrators be held accountable? I doubt it, politician’s and big business/big money are a pox on society.

  2. I was forced back to work at DWSD after more that 15 years on job injury on Monday July 6, 2015. I was given my previous title and position, Master Plumber at DWSD. ( I was of for cervical spinal injury for which I received Duty Disability Retirement in 2003 and 100% Social Security Disability in 2005 back to last day worked. This is ploy by CMI. I returned and was given ID with full access to all facilities and told to report to Huber(CSF) for truck and keys. I was taken to a Ms. Jackson who informed me I was not a plumber but a Field Service Tech. I pointed to ID badge that clearly stated Master Plumber of DWSD. She told me 1st there was no plumbers , I told her I was the Master and if any licensed Plumbers were working for DWSD they were now working under my License. Then she told me that she had Master Plumbers that would contest me being over them and I asked for a key to Plumbing Shop. She told me there “was no Plumbing Shop”, after 7 hours sitting in Central Yard waiting for a City vehicle I was informed by a Mr. Beverly that I was free to leave. I asked for documentation and he refused and referred me to Ms. Jackson who also refused documentation and would only give me phone number for Human Resources. Before leaving CSF I went down hall to shops and was stopped by a contractor who said I looked lost and she had not seen me in building. I showed her AID and told her I knew where I was going and it was there, the Plumbing Shop to see my Plumbers. I have no doubt now that DWSD was run into ground to justify contractors taking over. If I could get ahold of records for past 15 years I could prove it. Not to mention liability of City of Detroit having me see CMI Dr. and having him declare that there was nothing wrong with me when we just litigated Comp again in September 2014. The contractors are running now and getting ready to take it all. News Media contact me.

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