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Lack of representation on Dearborn's South End has residents rallying for citywide wards

Lack of representation on Dearborn's South End has residents rallying for citywide wards
Lack of representation on Dearborn's South End has residents rallying for citywide wards 04:15

DEARBORN, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - Dirt, dust and muck, plants and pollution coming from trucks, for students at Salina schools on Dearborn's South End, it's become the norm.

"Children here don't know any better. It is like second nature to them," Salina Elementary School principal Eman Ali-Ahmed says.

It's a problem that Ali-Ahmed says can be seen from one classroom to another, and even felt by those who run on the track team with each other.

"Especially with our outdoor sports. You can really tell the difference how it impacts our athletes," a Salina schools track and field coach told CBS News Detroit.

While visiting a fourth-grade class, several students raised their hands when asked if they have asthma. 

"My sister has asthma and it really affects her when she walks," a fourth grader said.

But it was those who had no problem with the pollution they are constantly exposed to that had Ali-Ahmed very concerned.

"The issues they are experiencing with the noise pollution, what they are seeing around the factories, what they smell, it's second nature. They don't know any better. They think it's normal," she said. "There is nothing they can do. And they rely on our elected officials. They rely on our elected officials to do something about it."

But in Dearborn, mapping out which elected official to go to is not as clear on the city's South end.

Out of seven city council members, all but one live on the city's west side. The other, City Council member Kamal Alsawafy, is currently serving on the U.S. National Guard overseas and lives on the east side leaving, the South End with no representation.

For the Charter Commission, all but one member lives in the West End. Commissioner Hussein Hachem stays in East End, but in the South, there still is no one for locals to turn to.

Trying to change that is resident and local pharmacist Mona Mawari, who's parents immigrated to Dearborn from Yemen.

"What I'm advocating for is the commission to change our election system into a ward system, in all ward system or districted election, where each region of the city in Dearborn has their own representative. They are guaranteed their own representative on City Council," Mawari says.

While she was born and raised in Dearborn, Mawari moved back to Yemen in 1994 with her family when she was just a kid. She later returned nine years later and graduated from Fordson High School.

But over the years, Mawari saw room for more inclusion and representation especially in the East and South ends of town where she says adding wards could help solve that issue.

"The difference between the West end and the East and South ends is like night and day," Mawari says.

This comes as the Charter Commission is faced with a proposal to revise the city's charter on June 7, an opportunity that only comes around every 12 years.

If passed, it would increase the number of city council members to nine, and would allow residents to vote only for future candidates who are running within their district. 

And while it revising the city's charter brings along many challenges, it has been done before by other neighboring cities including Detroit, Rochester Hills, Ypsilanti and Pontiac.

However, the idea to move to districted elections has drawn some push back.

At a Charter Commission meeting on May 3rd, several residents took to comment publicly about why they oppose the proposal. 

One resident says it would split the progress the city has built apart. "No matter what, you don't need to divide our neighborhoods."

Another woman stood up for city council members who live in the West end.

"I don't want to say that all the seats are going to the West people because they work hard for it. They go and knock on doors. They call, they send flyers. If they can't afford it, they go themselves and knock on the doors."

But for others like Austin Ramos who live in Dearborn's Southwestern Outer Drive neighborhood, he says no one ever comes knocking on his door.

"Some of our biggest issues is just being neglected on this side of Telegraph," Ramos said

That is until Dearborn resident and advocate for wards, Almunthir Elhady, did.  

"So you don't feel like you are being heard?" Elhady asked. 

"Yeah, correct," Ramos responded.

When trying to address issues to city council members, Ramos says he almost always does not get a response.

"We are upset with them. My wife is upset with them and we pay taxes like everybody else. We want to enjoy the same city surfaces that everybody else does. My mom is only a few blocks that way on the other side of Telegraph. She has a pool. She gets her street plowed. We don't get the same services," Ramos says.

It is those same services that West end resident Mark Petrie says he has enjoyed in his neighborhood over the last 10 years. 

"We love our neighbors and our park area here on the West side," Petrie says.

And while where he lives is well represented, Petrie says he is on board for wards.

"Everybody should have a voice. I think we have to think about what is best for us collectively in Dearborn, especially in the south where there is issues with pollution that people are trying to address. It's not as if it has completely been ignored, though," Petrie says.

On April 19th, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud filed a lawsuit against local scrap yard, Pro V Enterprises, located on the city's South end after more than 16 health hazard violations. 

And while Ali-Ahmed says Mayor Hammoud's voice has helped, it cannot compare to having someone speak up for the South end  each and every day.

"Living or truly working in the neighborhood everyday makes a difference because they get to see day in and day out what neighbors and the residents are going through each and every single day," Ali Ahmed says.

The Dearborn City Charter Commission is expected to make a vote on a proposal for wards, or districted elections, on Wednesday June 7.

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