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In Light of Storms and Floods in Michigan, Questions Are Being Raised on Elected Officials’ Performance and Accountability

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sharif Shamroukh
September 9, 2021

In late June 2021, storms and floods hit the area in southeast Michigan, with a record exceeding seven inches of rain in some cities. This was not the first overwhelming rain that caused thousands of residential homes and commercial buildings to flood and damage properties. In 2014, there was a similar occurrence of flooding as well. Although such flooding is rare to occur, it is a matter of exercising the preparedness and responsiveness of the elected officials responsible for setting the policies and approving the projects that have to do with such natural disasters.

The repeated extensive amount of rain that caused flooding in some cities was a clear indicator to those who are responsible for acting on behalf of the residents to take all necessary actions. This includes the maintenance of sewage systems and the response of all municipality departments to act to have such flooding under a certain degree of control, if not fully prevent it. According to Warren Bennis, “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right thing.” Accordingly, residents of each local municipality enjoy exercising their very fundamental rights by voting to select their most competent public servants who pledge to meet their promises and abide by constitutional obligations for the best interests of the public.

Once elected officials begin in office, they are expected to contribute their full efforts to deciding on all matters that eventually benefit public interests and return value to constituents. It is essential to understand that these duties become obligations, not choices. Thus, the social contract comes into effect as a result of the voting system that makes the successful candidates obligated to serve the public, and the public, in return, exercises their accountability on each decision being taken by the local municipality elected officials.

With this being stated, it is crucial to witness some discrepancies in the understanding residents have about who is responsible for failure in response and preparedness to deal with such natural disasters, especially when a situation like this occurred a few years back. Also, it is essential to realize that understanding the duties and responsibilities of each elected official in local government will lead to determining who carries the responsibility for the failure of specific systems and projects that have to do with expected natural disasters.

Any municipality consists of several elected officials, including the mayor and city council members. While mayors usually develop and propose policies as part of their duties, their ultimate role focuses on implementing the procedures and decisions made by city council members. Furthermore, to have a deeper understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each elected official, it is important to learn that these roles and responsibilities are set clearly in the constitution, charters, statutes and ordinances that make the handling of each dispute or failure of public servants more effective. Therefore, it is important to stress that all legislative and policymaking powers are entrusted to the city council, while the elected mayor delegates administrative authority. Also, it is important to understand that the mayor has veto power on any decision made by the city council. Even with this veto power, city council members can override the mayor’s veto with a certain number of votes. The process is not that complicated in arguing who has the ultimate power to make critical decisions for the advantage of all constituents. It is a matter of understanding these boundaries, in a nutshell, to be able to exercise adequate accountability power that taxpayers have when it comes to deciding the most reliable candidate to support in election time.

Understanding the boundaries of each elected official, the case becomes more specific on expectations to which the taxpayers and voters are entitled. In the case of the recent flooding in southeast Michigan, it was noticeable that some elected officials rolled up their sleeves and provided physical help to some residents affected by the floods. This is a great initiative to promote the importance of volunteerism and look after seniors and needy residents. However, the city councilmembers, for example, have a much more important role to take considering the resources they have to make the “right decisions” that make a positive impact on the lives of their constituents. Yet their efforts for the past few years should be on making the right decisions to direct the city’s resources to stand firm when a similar flood becomes a reality. Hence, successful elected officials need to be more proactive in directing the city’s resources rather than waiting for a certain level of damage to occur to start thinking of the proper preparedness required.

In this respect, it is critical to point out that in 1976, Michigan legislators enacted “Sunshine Laws” that established the complete information that the public is entitled to in regards to the affairs of government and the actions that public servants take on behalf of them. The point of highlighting these laws is to encourage transparency and openness concerning all decisions made by city council members and the mayor so that the taxpayers have a clear understanding of who made certain decisions regarding the projects and preparedness of the city to handle potential disasters and act consistently.

Author: Dr. Sharif Shamroukh is a Senior Lecturer at the American Institute for Philanthropy Advancement, and frequently writes about various public policy issues. Also, Dr. Shamroukh provides consulting services to nonprofit organizations covering a wide range of topics that help achieve their missions.

Contact Dr. Shamroukh via e-mail: [email protected] or Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter @DrShamroukh

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