Dearborn's City Charter

The Dearborn City Charter is the backbone of legislation in Dearborn, almost like a constitution for our city. The Charter defines the structure of Dearborn's government and the roles of each branch. The City Charter is up for revision every 15 years, with the latest charter put in place in 2007. Changing the charter between revisions is possible. On this page we'll take a look at the charter itself, the revision process, and discuss some desired changes.

The Charter

The City of Dearborn’s Charter provides for the structure of governance in Dearborn including our Council (legislation and budgeting) and the Mayor's office (executive and administrative functions). The charter defines the political boundaries of Dearborn, requires the establishment of commissions that focus on specific aspects of Dearborn public life, and establishes rules for elections.

Dearborn's Charter is unique because it contains a minimum staffing provision for the Fire Department -- one of only a few communities in the state -- and the Police Department -- the only of its kind in Michigan. These types of provisions are illegal under a 2011 state law, but because they were already present in Dearborn's Charter they were permitted to remain.

The Charter requires 2.1 police officers per 1000 residents and 1.24 firefighters with the number of residents determined by the most recent census. In 2010, the United States Census indicated that Dearborn's population was 98,153 placing minimum staffing numbers at 206 uniformed police officers and 122 firefighters. This provision has resulted in the significant expansion of the police budget, severely limited the City's ability to fund vital services, and has increased property taxes.

Changing the Charter

Our goal is to remove the Police Department minimum staffing provision from the City's charter. There are three ways to change the City Charter:

Update the City Charter through the Charter Commission

Every 15 years Dearborn's voting population has an option to open up the Charter for revision. In August 2021 there will be a ballot question to identify whether Dearborn's electorate wants to update the Charter. If this measure passes, then in November 2021 there will be an election for a Charter Commission. The Commission will create a revised charter that is approved by the Council and will be in place until 2037.

Because the current minimum staffing provisions are illegal under state law, they will automatically fall off provided the charter is opened up for revision. However, if the charter is not opened up then other means will be required to remove the provision.

City Council Puts the Charter Provision to a Vote

With an affirmative vote of five City Council members, the revision or removal of a provision in the charter can be placed on the ballot for a vote of Dearborn's electorate. The City Council has spent the past nine months refusing to use their power to put charter revision to a vote. It is our goal to maintain pressure on the City Council to take this action through attendance at City Council meetings, and writing city Council Members

Petition Drive

The Charter provision can be put to a vote of the general electorate through a petition drive according to Chapter 19, section 19.5 of the Dearborn City Charter in reference to MCL 117.21. If 5% of Dearborn's electorate sign a petition, the provision will be placed on a ballot in an upcoming election. If 20% of the electorate a special election can be called.

Desired Charter Updates

The charter is a complex document with many provisions. We are currently working to unpack and understand the charter and its provisions. Our desired updates include:

  • Removal of the Police and Fire Department minimum staffing requirements. These minimum staffing requirements place undue restriction on Dearborn's budget flexibility and prevent real investment in meaningful community safety.

  • Shift from at-large Council elections to ward or district elections to reduce barriers to entry on council and to balance the power currently held by the whiter, wealthier west side.

  • Establish City Council positions as full-time positions. This will reduce the barrier to entry, and establish an expectation of Council interface with the public.

  • Require all city records to be made available in English, Arabic, and Spanish. Dearborn's operations impact communities with large populations of Arab and Spanish speakers and records should be made accessible to these groups.

  • Zoning codes that emphasize affordable housing and proactively address industrial pollutants.

  • Direct citizen input for council meetings

  • Establish a commission to address issues of racism in the city.

  • Establish civilian oversight of the police department.