Jan 19, 2023 - News

Detroit City Council back to big auditorium for meetings

An auditorium is shown with seats and wood paneling and flags lining the back.

City hall's auditorium. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

For the first time since the pandemic forced its meetings to go virtual, Detroit City Council plans to host its weekly public session in city hall's large-scale Henderson Auditorium starting Jan. 31.

Why it matters: Henderson could fit large numbers of residents in the past when they attended to be heard on high-interest topics.

  • But since last year, when Council returned to hybrid in-person sessions from solely virtual, the body has only met in a much smaller room.
  • That room often exceeded capacity — leaving some residents waiting outside while controversial issues were debated.

What they're saying: 'This is a positive, welcome change because it will allow more Detroiters to attend meetings safely and comfortably," Ruth Johnson, public policy director for Community Development Advocates of Detroit, tells Axios.

Driving the news: Moving to Henderson — named after Erma Henderson, the city's first Black City Council president — was delayed because of audiovisual technology issues, officials say. Meetings in the bigger auditorium still need hookups to Zoom, for remote participation, and television broadcasting.

  • An official estimated last fall that meetings could be held there by late November.
  • The city is waiting on a "few more critical equipment pieces," but City Council can now use the auditorium as long as it gives prior notice to the media services team, President Mary Sheffield's spokesperson Kayla Rice tells Axios.

Between the lines: The smaller room is still Council's official meeting room, while the auditorium will be utilized "if there is an expected increase of residents in attendance," Rice says.

Of note: Council did well in how it transitioned to virtual meetings "during a very difficult time" and staff were open to suggestions for improvements, Johnson says.

  • But virtual meetings lacked a "sense of community … Who's in the room, and the energy of seeing your fellow advocates and community members."
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