Pontiac’s charter commission election pushes to modernize

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The city of Pontiac, Michigan is holding elections on May 3 for nine seats to the local charter commission, tasked with updating the city’s charter. The previous charter in place in Pontiac was adopted on May 27, 1981, and it took effect May 3, 1982, which was before most of the candidates were even born. Candidates said the charter no longer represents the community.

Melanie Rutherford, City Councilwoman for District 1 in Pontiac, said “I think it’s vital that we put more accountability in the charter. The charter hasn’t been updated in almost 40 years I believe, or 40 plus years if I’m not mistaken and it’s time that we redrafted, we updated, and we empowered the people to help lead and govern the community better.”

In August of last year, the Pontiac City Council unanimously approved a revision for the city charter. Jeremy Bowie said in the Oakland County Press that the world has changed a lot since the 80s when the charter was last updated, which makes this election very important for the community of Pontiac. 

There are six candidates with their names on the ballot for one of the nine seats open and a number of write-in candidates who have been campaigning alongside one another. The candidates on the ballot are Norbert Burrows, Bryan Killian, Tameka Ramsey, Scott Stewart, Kermit Williams, and Jose Ybarra. 

Additionally, there are 10 more candidates who fall into the second category, which guarantees all seats will be filled this election. 

According to state law, the city has three years to create a new charter, so the new commission will have adequate time to formulate a modern representation of Pontiac. 

One candidate for a seat in the commission is Tameka Ramsey, who was born and raised in Pontiac and has lived there for almost her entire life. Her interest in modernizing the charter sprouts from her caring so much about the younger people in Pontiac. With three children who live there or nearby, she is very interested in making decisions and basing her politics off of the younger generations residing in the community because they are the future of the city, and she does not believe that older generations should leave a broken government for those younger to be left to fix.

Ramsey said her passion for enacting change started when she was younger living in a subsidized living community. There was a large hill between the housing and the elementary school across the street with no way to regulate traffic in the area. She decided to take it to the city council, and she realized how much it takes to change something within the community because things can get political very quickly. She said that it stops looking like progress is possible because you run into issues wherever you go in politics. 

Screenshot by Arden Vanover
Tameka Ramsey speaking about the time she realized that everything was political, so she decided she would much rather save space for people who wouldn’t typically feel like they have a space instead of being greatly political herself.

She said, “The charter is the foundation of the city. People created the charter with the rules and laws that they wanted to see and then some political person in office assigned someone to just tear the charter up.” 

Ramsey said, if she is elected, she wants to not only update the city charter but make sure that people who are typically underrepresented feel seen with this new charter.

Ramsey is also in close communications with fellow candidate Jose Ybarra, who is the youngest candidate in the race being in his 20s. Ybarra is a deep-rooted Pontiac citizen and has been involved as a part of the community since he was able to vote. Ybarra also is a Michigan State University graduate; he said his experience at MSU inspired him to always be better and to reach above and beyond in giving the youth of Pontiac a voice and a representative who will listen to what they want from the city. 

Ybarra said, “I would love to be an advocate for parks and recreation, especially enrichment. Now more than ever, ever since the pandemic, children need to have that enrichment for so many opportunities such as learning how to fly a kite, learning these different essential creativity objectives that really expand the minds of children here.” 

Screenshot by Arden Vanover
Jose Ybarra speaking on his experience leading up to the election. He said he had received so much support and great help from his friends and family to the extent of coming up with his campaign slogan, “Say okay to Jose.”

As someone who is younger than the average person running for a position in local politics, Ybarra feels like he can reach out to younger people and show them the importance of voting and being politically active because it can pay off and positively impact their ways of life.

Kermit Williams, a candidate for the commission, has been serving the Pontiac City Council for the last 12 years recognizing the loopholes and structural problems in the charter and decided to take these progressive steps into his own hands.

Williams said that young people should go out and vote especially in local elections. All elections are important, he said, because young people must deal with the consequences of these elections so they should want to have a say. 

“They need to make sure that other people aren’t making the decisions for them that they will have to pay for in the end,” Williams said.

He said he wanted to stress the importance of using your voice and standing up for people who do not always get paid attention to and helping to amplify those voices.

He, along with other city figures and candidates think this election is important to young people because it is indicative of how the city will be run in the future, and they want young people to be involved in their own futures. 

Bianca Kajy, an MSU student and Pontiac community member, agrees with these city figures because her future is dictated by the decisions being made right now. 

She said, “Young people should start getting involved in politics at a young age, the voting age is 18, so when you turn 18 you should start getting involved. Some people don’t think it’s important or don’t try to get involved, but I do think it’s very important because they are the future, they’re going to be the ones in the community or running the community down the line. If they’re not making decisions or getting informed about who’s running their community, that’s really upsetting because they need to know how to change things if they need to be changed.”