DETROIT (WWJ) – The Detroit City Council has elected council member Saunteel Jenkins to be the legislative body’s new president.
Tuesday’s vote by ballot came as the council is down to only six members after former president Charles Pugh fled the city, Gary Brown left for a higher job in the Emergency Manager’s office, and Kwame Kenyatta quit after pointing out the council has no power under a state-appointed EM.
Another change decided on Tuesday: Council member Andre Spivey was elected as council president pro-tem.
Although there was some argument as to whether or not they should be allowed to abstain, members JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones opted not to vote on a new leader. It was decided the election, regardless, would stand by majority vote.
“The reality is that you can’t hold a gun to somebody’s head and make them vote, so we should just move on,” said Councilmen Ken Cockrel, after informing his colleagues he did not want either position.
Later, Jenkins told reporters, “It’s a humbling feeling to actually now be in the seat of my mentor, Maryann Mahaffey.”
She added, “It feels good to not have the debate anymore, and for us to know who our president and president pro-tem is. I think … with everything that’s going on right now in the city, we need some leadership. So I’m glad that we finally have leadership in place.”
The city charter requires the council to appoint people to vacancies, but emergency manager Orr issued an order that council members not do so. WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton says Public Act 436, the state’s Emergency Manager Law, overrules what’s in the charter.
The city clerk’s office says council can operate as long as it has at least five members.
This action by the council comes after Pugh went off the grid weeks ago amid allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a Detroit Public Schools student who he mentored. A civil lawsuit was expected to be filed, but police have suspended any criminal investigation.
Pugh was stripped by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr of his power and pay after his request for a four-week leave was denied and he failed to return to the council table. (Catch up on the story here.)