By definition, a city or municipal charter is a legal document establishing a municipality, and it determines the laws by which the city is governed. It's essentially a city's constitution. A city can adopt or modify its organizing charter, as can citizens, but it is not an endeavor that should be taken lightly, nor often.
We bring this up because Birmingham resident Jim Mirro, upset over Birmingham city commissioners voting to re-stripe W. Maple Road between Southfield and Cranbrook roads for a trial as a three-lane road with a center left turn lane, had an attorney create a petition to change the city charter to keep Maple Road a four-lane road forever. His goal is to attain five percent of registered Birmingham voters, or 839 signatures, to get the charter change before voters on March 8, 2016, which will be the Michigan presidential primary election. According to Birmingham City Clerk Laura Pierce, for a local ballot question, petition initiated, to appear on that ballot, it must be properly submitted to the city clerk's office at least 14 weeks prior to the election, which is December 1, 2015.
While Mirro certainly has a right to circulate a petition, we disagree with his efforts. He is seeking to change the city of Birmingham's charter to enshrine a road as it is today, in perpetuity, or until another vote of the people to change the charter, because he doesn't like a decision by the city's governing board, which spent months and months studying the issue, listening to experts as well as citizens. In the example of W. Maple Road, it was once a two-lane road, until traffic patterns and demands necessitated change to a four-lane road. Once again, traffic patterns are requiring city officials to look at infrastructure needs. Who knows what transportation demands will be required of the road in 10, 20 or 40 years, yet by forcing a four-lane road into the city charter, future staff and leaders will have their hands tied.
By circulating a petition to change the city's charter, Mirro is setting a terrible precedent.
Government cannot be run by charter petitions. It not only hamstrings city officials, but there can be unintended consequences years down the road.
Birmingham has been a vital, growing, and constantly evolving community for decades. What was once a stop on the Pony Express is now an example across the country for the way it has revitalized an inner ring suburb, with its bistro ordinance a model for helping to create a walkable downtown.
Just as the downtown business district and newer districts, such as the Triangle and Rail districts are vital for economic growth, so too are the neighborhoods. It is testament both to the constant reinvention of the city core and the foresight of its government body that residents choose to remain for decades, while young families seek to make it their home as well. Yet everyone must respect that if there is not evolution, you become a dead community. Speak up, work to change ordinances. But respect the charter – and if approached on this petition, don't sign it.