BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - In Benton Harbor on November 8th, voters will be asked to elect not just new candidates, but asked to decide on fundamental changes to the way government works. Charter changes were put on the ballot by the city’s emergency manager, Joseph Harris.
In the two decades Sherron Wilder has lived in Benton Harbor, she doesn’t remember an election of this magnitude. “This election is very important because changes are taking place in Benton Harbor,” she says.
Changes aren’t just names on the ballot, but fundamental change for government. “It won't be long before our emergency manager situation is done here and local control is what it’s all about,” says Marcus Robinson with the Consortium for Community Development in Benton Harbor. The Consortium has been holding public forums to educate people on the changes.
If voters say yes, the commission would have five members instead of nine, a ward system would be eliminated and the commission would have power over only a hired city manager. “The proposal suggests department heads report to the city manager and city manager is sole direct report of the city commission,” says Robinson.
Right now, the only person with power is the state-appointed emergency manager, Joseph Harris. Benton Harbor's finances are back on track and soon power will be restored to a local government.
The charter changes will determine if voters want a new government or the same one that got Benton Harbor in its financial mess. “It’s up to voters now to decide if that’s what they want,” says Robinson.
Wilder for one will be voting. “I think they’re sure this time. I think they’ve had a wakeup call. There is an emergency financial manager and there are some changes that people aren’t happy about,” she says. Wilder is sure, this election, others will be joining her at the polls.