[A-List] /National Factor . . . certain aspects/ dateline Detroit
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Waistline2 at aol.com
Sat Sep 18 12:23:10 MDT 2004
Watson, McPhail, Mahaffey targeted for support of laid-off city and school
By Diane Bukowski The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT - The city's Law Department has called for the removal from office of
city councilwomen Maryann Mahaffey, Sharon McPhail and Joann Watson for
participating in a July council hearing where laid-off school and city workers
contemplated a general strike.
"To encourage a strike by City Employees may be a violation of the Detroit
Ethics Ordinance," wrote law department officials Valerie Colbert-Osamuede and
Dennis Mazurek Sept 3. "Such a violation may subject the Council Member to a
Resolution of Public Admonition and removal from office by the Governor for
Donna Parker, a laid-off Detroit Public Schools (DPS) custodian who attended
the July 28 meeting at the Northwest Activities Center along with hundreds of
others, was outraged.
"We the people as a whole said this is what we wanted to do," said Parker,
who worked for DPS for 14 years before her lay-off in June, one of 3200
announced by schools CEO Kenneth Burnley. "It doesn't seem like we have a democracy
anymore. I support these council members fully because they work for the people.
If this goes on, there's going to be a revolution."
Parker said she has not been called back to work, and that the DPS is
creating and advertising new classifications in her field to avoid any callbacks.
"Part of the reason the city of Detroit is in such trouble is that the Law
Department is incompetent," said McPhail, an attorney herself. "So I'm not
surprised that they do not believe there is free speech in a free nation."
Watson added, "This is clearly an attempt to silence those of us who believe
that citizens have a right to be heard, and that jobs, city services and the
right to vote for a fully-empowered school board should be protected."
A number of council staffers have said the law department itself violated
legal ethics in issuing the opinion. The law department by statute represents not
only the executive branch including the mayor, but also other branches
including the city council.
A rally in support of the three councilwomen, organized by Wayne County
Commissioner Kwame Kenyatta, was planned for Sept. 15 at the Phoenix Community
In a phone call to Watson, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick denied any involvement in
the issuance of the law department opinion, but his press representative Dave
Manney said it was unlikely the mayor would comment on the record. Law
department director Ruth Carter, who is Kilpatrick's appointee, signed off on the
opinion. She did not return a call for comment.
Mahaffey, McPhail and Watson, along with council members Barbara Rose Collins
and Kenneth Cockrel, Jr., voted in June to override Kilpatrick's veto of a
budget that would have kept the jobs of 377 city workers. Because a
supermajority of six was needed, the mayoral veto prevailed and the workers were laid off
at Kilpatrick's behest.
During the council's summer recess, Collins, Mahaffey, McPhail and Watson
temporarily withheld approval of numerous private contracts in the wake of the
lay-offs and continued to conduct follow-up hearings on the lay-offs.
The law department officials issued their Sept. 3 opinion at the urging of
council members Kay Everett and Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, who supported the
mayoral veto. They said they had reviewed a transcript of the forum and were
appalled at discussions of a possible strike. The two did not return calls for
A separate opinion by attorneys from the council's Research and Analysis
Division (RAD) found that the council members violated no laws, and were protected
by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"While it seems clear that elected representatives and others can engage in
speech regarding a general strike in principle, public employees who engage in
such a strike by their conduct and persons whose conduct is found to be in
concert with an unlawful strike may be subject to sanctions," wrote RAD chief
David Whitaker and three other attorneys.
The state's Public Employee Relations Act (PERA) makes it illegal for public
employees to strike, but Detroit city workers and DPS teachers have struck
repeatedly in the past three decades, and no mayor or school board to date have
attempted to retaliate legally.
At issue in the law department opinion are comments made during the July 28
hearing by Mahaffey, Watson and McPhail.
At midpoint in the meeting, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) organizer Luke
Massie appeared to be questioning the commitment of public and union officials on
stage, and said, "The question was raised before by one of the speakers
regarding a general strike in the city of Detroit. It's the single most powerful
thing we can do to have a one day strike in the city of Detroit."
Watson responded, "He got that recommendation from me . . . It came from me
my brother. That's my point." Watson later directed attendees at the forum who
wanted to help organize a possible general strike to meet at one side, but did
not participate herself.
McPhail and Mahaffey at various points expressed support for the general
organizing efforts at the meeting, and McPhail commented at one point, "We have to
pick a day and shut it all down. We have to make their lives miserable."
The Rev. Thomas Jackson, a DPS skilled trades worker who also spoke at the
forum, said the council members' remarks were taken out of context.
"It was the DPS Unified Public Employees Committee that asked for and
spearheaded that meeting, because we lost our jobs," said Jackson. "How can it
possibly be illegal for any elected official to take a stand for those who don't
have the voice or power to do so?"
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