Citizens run to be representatives of their local municipal governments for many reasons, chief amongst them the personal belief that they can offer something distinct and noteworthy to their community. Commissioners, council members, board of trustee members – whatever a community calls them – are relied upon as citizen leaders to study and learn the issues confronting them and then make a decision that benefits the community-at-large.
It's called representative government.
Sometimes, local leaders are confronted with making unpopular decisions based upon research and various facts they have which lots of others do not. These determinations are made for the good of the entire community – residential, business, commercial – and good leaders do not give more weight to the views of special interests, even if those special interests masquerade themselves as a representative majority. They can't. Because then those commissioners, council members, or trustees would be pandering to the loudest voices in the room rather than working for the good of the whole community.
Birmingham's city commission has a long history of working to make its city a strong, vibrant, flourishing municipality as it has evolved over the decades. Commissioners, who each only earn $5 per meeting, making it essentially a volunteer position, spend countless hours not only on the commission but on subcommittees and meetings with residents and businesses to learn and understand the issues confronting the city. This year, commissioners and city staff were inundated with communication from residents and businesses who were concerned about a possible re-striping of W. Maple Road between Southfield and Cranbrook roads. A long-planned resurfacing of W. Maple in 2016 led to the city's Multi-Modal Transportation Board looking at the road for ways to make it accessible to more transportation users, as well as how to reduce speeds, the number and severity of accidents, and traffic volume on the road.
Three separate traffic engineering consultants hired by the city recommended redoing the four-lane street as a three-lane configuration, with
W. Maple one way in each direction with a center turn lane, which former commissioner Scott Moore noted was “counterintuitive.” After numerous city meetings and careful study, city commissioners voted to test the three-lane configuration by re-striping the road prior to resurfacing. The test began last October and, by almost all accounts, it would appear the new configuration may be working. The test continues through the spring, when traffic consultants will present their findings to the city commission for a final determination.
However, resident Jim Mirro wasn't having any of that. On July 4, he launched a charter petition drive to place a proposal on the March 8 election to inscribe in the city's charter that Maple Road must always be a four-lane road, from both Southfield and Cranbrook roads and in the area from Woodward to Eton Street – no matter what city leaders and traffic engineers determine, and no matter what transportation needs are in the future.
We can't think of a worse idea when it comes to the city charter.
As we have said before, by definition, a city charter is a legal document establishing the laws by which the city is governed. It's essentially a city's constitution. A city can modify its charter, but it is not an endeavor that should be taken lightly.
A city charter is not the place for settling disputes over decisions that might be made in the future, such as the determination about W. Maple Road once the trial or test run on the three-lane configuration is over and the data is analyzed.
That is why we are urging voters to say NO on the Maple Road charter amendment.
We elect city commissioners to wade through the necessary information and make informed decisions. That is the basis of a representative government – it is not a government that plays only to the loudest special interest at a meeting. So an end run around elected city leaders is just that – an end run to have the views of special interests placed ahead of the needs of the community-at-large. We can't think of a better reason for rejecting the charter change on the March ballot.