City of Dearborn learning lessons in how government works

Monday night provided me a reminder of how government should work in this country.

We might still need a little work on the decorum for the monthly Dearborn Board of Aldermen meetings, and we might need a few refreshers on the Sunshine Law. But hey, at least people seem to care. 

Citizens almost overloaded city hall this week to protest a recent vote on parking changes.

The speeches were impassioned and poignant. Unfortunately, the meeting took an unnecessarily adversarial tone — one that could have been avoided or at least diminished.

That’s where the Sunshine Law comes into play here.

You can read more about the situation starting on Page 1 of this issue. There were a lot of ins and outs, a lot of action in this meeting so I’ll abbreviate here.

Last month, Dearborn’s aldermen voted to change parking on all city streets to parallel, eliminating two instances of angled parking on Third Street. The move would affect two building owners, and both were present to protest Monday.

Why didn’t they come last month?

Well, the official agenda didn’t list parking as an item up for vote. It came up for vote anyway in a move that potentially violates both city ordinance and state law.

However, the board didn’t actually attach an ordinance to the vote, so there was really nothing to enforce. This double oversight saved them just a little bit.

But only a little bit.

Other perceived slights to the citizens in recent months helped restoke a lingering distrust of the city’s government and the “old guard” in charge. This boiled over at the meeting with some speaking out to ask if the elected officials truly have a pulse of what citizens want or if they are simply using their platform to solve personal business.

At one point, Dearborn alderman Mary Lee Green responded, “We were elected by the people.”

That’s where we have to be careful. Bob Bryan and Don Kerns, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the parking change, were recently re-elected to two-year terms in a field of three candidates.

Green and Donald Swanstone both accepted appointments in the summer of 2016 when no one filed to run for two open seats in the April general municipal election. Swanstone, who previously served 22 years on the board before being voted out in 2014, received three write-in votes. Green received just one and reluctantly accepted her spot at the time after others turned down the seat.

 “If you have someone else to fill it, let’s do that instead,” Green said, just after being formally offered the seat in the July, 2016 board of aldermen meeting.

Dearborn went back to at-large aldermen spots in response to dwindling election candidates. It hasn’t really worked — at least not yet.

Some of the citizens to speak Monday have indicated a desire to run for office in the future. At the very least, some seem interested in taking the board’s current advice to those who feel misinformed: “Show up to the meetings.”

I can attest that sustaining momentum from an early concern can be difficult. The promise to run for office and willingly take on extra duties and responsibilities can fade with time.

For now, the citizens have a chance to speak at a public hearing on the parking matter on Saturday, Aug. 19. I expect a lot of people that afternoon to be at the Dearborn Community Center — a venue chosen to accommodate the expected turnout.

That’s a good step to take. Picking out a building with the right capacity is also a part of the Sunshine Law, so we’re all learning together.

However, if the aldermen move forward with a parking ordinance in the face of what appears to be overwhelming opposition — this time using appropriate methods — the citizens will have only one recourse. They will have to find willing candidates to represent their voices when the current aldermen come up for reelection.

That’s how government should work.

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.