EFM may downsize Benton Harbor Commission, commissioners want it put to a vote

By: Brandon Lewis Email
By: Brandon Lewis Email

Emergency Financial Manager Joe Harris is considering eliminating the four ward commissioner positions, while keeping the four at-large commissioners and mayor.

Many commissioners voiced strong opposition to the plan and Harris, saying the reduction in commissioners would reduce the people's input on the community.

Commissioner Duane Seats said the commission is planning to put the decision whether to eliminate ward commissioners on the August ballot.

"I think [Harris'] feelings will be real hurt to find out that the citizens are going to blow it off the ballot. So he's going to have to find a new direction because when the vote comes out I believe it's going to be an astounding victory for the people and not for the government or emergency financial manager. I believe he's probably going to get 100 votes and if he does get 100 votes he'll be lucky of that," said Seats.

A change in the number of commissioners would be considered a change to the city's charter. According to the city's charter any changes must be put to a vote, therefore the commissioners argue if Harris simply eliminates the ward commissioner positions it would violate the charter.

According to Bill 4214, which was recently signed into law, Harris could decide to eliminate the commission altogether before they get a chance to place anything on the August ballot. However, Harris has said he is hoping to work with the commission.

Seats contends Harris needs the commissioners to make any changes work.

"You can't do it alone with this many citizens. I think that they need a productive voice that speaks their language, that speaks their needs, that speaks what they need to have happen in our city and if you want to do that, I think the citizens should have the say so, not an emergency manager and my question: with is what does [eliminating the ward commissioners] have to do with the budget. Does it really have to do with the budget or is it a direct attack on the commission?" questioned Seats.

No motion was made during Monday's commissioner's meeting to place anything on the August ballot.

Shortly after the commissioner's meeting began Harris issued his Strategic Plan for the city and his recent newsletter.

Harris said getting water bill payments up-to-date is a top priority. April's bill will include usage from January and February. May's bill will be for March, June's bill will be for April and July's bill will be for May and June, which will bring the billing up-to-date.

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