Ward 3 City Council Seat FilledRuth Cassidy
Ypsilanti City Council voted on June 4, 2019 to appoint Annie Somerville to the vacant City Council seat in Ward 3. City Council’s process lacked transparency and did not reflect public constituent input.
In-person interviews of candidates to fill the Ypsilanti Ward 3 City Council seat took place on May 28. The four candidates were John McMillian, Desiraé Simmons, Annie Somerville, and Tyler Weston.
John McMillian is a retired contractor manager and landlord in Ypsilanti. McMillian has been on the Board of the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, represented Depot Town Merchants Association, and has volunteered in other roles in Ypsi.
Desiraé Simmons is the co-director of Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice. She serves on the Planning Commission’s Subcommittee for Affordability & Accessibility and has done organizing with Rising for Democracy in Ypsi, Defend Affordable Ypsi, and other community organizations.
Annie Somerville is a legislative aide to Michigan State Senator Jeff Irwin. She is a recent graduate of Eastern Michigan University and has worked as a campaign staffer for state legislators.
Tyler Weston is a resident and commercial realtor. He has volunteered with various non-profits in Washtenaw County, including 826 Michigan.
Desiraé Simmons ran for Ward 3 city council in Nov 2018, earning 871 votes. Weston ran for Ward 3 city council in Nov 2014, earning 553 votes. McMillian and Somerville have not run for an Ypsilanti City Council seat. From the supplemental questions submitted to City Council, it appears that only Desiraé Simmons has experience working on a city commission. Additionally, John McMillian, Desiraé Simmons, and Tyler Weston have experience serving on nonprofit boards.
At the meeting featuring the in-person interviews on May 28, 2019, fifteen community members publicly spoke in support of Desiraé Simmons to be appointed to the seat, one person in favor of McMillian, one person in favor of Somerville, and one person in favor of Weston. Multiple community members pointed out that Desiraé Simmons was the only candidate of the four to receive voting support for a Ward 3 seat in 2018.
At public commentary, community member Bryan Foley said “The constituency of Ward 3 has already spoken. They selected, behind Anthony Morgan, Desiraé Simmons. So now you have essentially six people who are going to make a decision that ‘I respect this process, that is to uphold what the Ward 3 constituency has already said’… Or they can make the choice to pick somebody that they want to fit their agenda and not what the constituency wanted. So it would be, in my opinion, a disrespect and violation of the democratic process to pick anyone to fill [late] Council Member Murdock’s seat other than Desiraé Simmons.”
At the end of the in-person interviews, Council Members Brown and Richardson thanked all the candidates for their applications. However, no discussion regarding how City Council Members would perform deliberations to select the candidate to fill the vacant seat took place at the public City Council meeting. Ultimately, it was also unclear what part, if any, the responses to the in-person and written interviews played in City Council’s final decision-making process
On June 4, 2019, City Council voted to appoint a new council member to represent Ward 3. Voting occurred by a sitting council member moving to appoint a selected candidate to the seat, one candidate at a time. No discussion of votes took place at this meeting, although Mayor Bashert and Council Member Symanns had identical votes — both voted against Desiraé Simmons and in favor of Tyler Weston and Annie Somerville. Mayor Beth Bashert received an endorsement for her 2018 run for Mayor from candidates Weston and McMillian and McMillian’s spouse, Linda French. Mayor Bashert did not disclose that she had received the aforementioned endorsements.
Annie Somerville was selected as the candidate to fill the vacant Ward 3 City Council seat (see table).
On June 5, in the “Normal Park Neighborhood Association” Facebook group, a Ward 2 constituent questioned Council Member Jennifer Symmans’ decisions in the Ward 3 appointment, stating “I would love for JS to share her reasoning.” Council Member Symmans responded, stating in part, “As for the vote, while some candidates may have received more public support, I received a fair amount of communications about all of the candidates. While I took all of that into consideration, being that this was an appointment for the Ward 3 City Council person and not mayor of the city, I paid particular attention to the input from the constituents of Ward 3 just as I did for the Ward 2 appointment. I considered their perspectives very seriously. Additionally, I weighed each candidate’s application, experience, and interviews, and voted accordingly.”
On June 8, Council Member Jennifer Symmans responded to another comment stating that “dialogue is always good, even when it is difficult”, but failed to provide information regarding how many residents from Ward 3 had contacted her in support of Somerville, Weston, and Desiraé Simmons. Council Member Symmans declined to specify how she incorporated constituent input into her decision-making process.
City Council Members should be transparent in these types of decisions by making clear the selection criteria for vacancy appointment. Up-front disclosure of applicants’ prior campaign contributions and endorsements also would have helped to avoid the appearance of impropriety and make transparent potential conflicts of interest. Council Member Symmans’ statements are concerning not only because they provided opaque rationale for her votes in favor of Weston and Somerville after-the-fact, but also because they suggested she relied on feedback from Ward 3 in particular.
Upon reading the above comments from Council Member Symanns, one Ward 3 voter responded “I didn’t know that other council people would give our opinion more weight than their own wards either. If I did, I would have contacted the other Ward representatives. I also do not feel that I’ve seen council members who voted no on Des [Desiraé Simmons] provide a coherent or specific reason yet. She got an astronomical amount of votes for running as an independent, and I’m pretty disappointed in several of our elected officials right now.”
The fact that other Council Members did not provide any explanation about which candidate(s) they voted in favor of is also of concern. It appears that the overall decision did not reflect the wishes of the constituency in Ward 3 or outside Ward 3, as shown by both public support and election numbers.
Desiraé Simmons stated that at least 12 residents from Ward 3 and 15 residents from outside of Ward 3 informed her that they contacted City Council in favor of her appointment. Desiraé Simmons commented: “[I]f participation were one of the criteria it should have been detailed and requested. People kept asking me about the process and I could only share what I knew from the previous appointments. I didn’t tell people to contact their representatives in my behalf, they chose to do so on their own. I understand why holding an election for seats vacated within 2 years of the election cycle is not the practice- especially for the expense. I do, however, believe that it wouldn’t be that difficult to have a more transparent process and one that at least considers the will of the people in some tangible way.”
Disclaimer: Desiraé Simmons is a core member of What’s Left Ypsilanti. The author of this piece is an Ypsilanti resident and a donor to Desiraé Simmons 2018 campaign.