As Voters Seek to Discern Council Candidates’ Differences, ELi Asks Some Follow-Up Questions

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

An official ballot drop box, located outside City Hall.

In the upcoming Nov. 2 general election, registered East Lansing voters will be deciding only one matter: who will fill the three seats that are up for City Council. 

Currently, five candidates are vying for the two, open four-year Council terms. Those candidates are Dana Watson, Chuck Grigsby, George Brookover, Adam Delay, and Dan Bollman. 

The third seat on Council coming open is only for a two-year term. Two candidates are running for that seat: Ron Bacon and Mikey Manuel.

You can go to ELi’s Voter Guide for the 2021 general election to find ELi’s profiles on each of the candidates, information on voter forums, and more details about the race. Now, with the election a little more than a month away and the absentee voter period opening soon, ELi is starting to bring you information designed to help you see the differences between candidates. 

For example, we’ll be bringing you their answers to questions posed by our readers and bringing you information on the voting records of candidates who have been serving on Council and City commissions.

Today, ELi is bringing you an answer from candidate George Brookover to readers’ questions about his potential conflicts-of-interest plus a longer fact-check on material sent out by candidate Adam Delay about some specific policy proposals he’s put forth. 

With regard to the look at DeLay’s proposals, the reason ELi is not yet publishing similar follow-ups about the other six candidates at this time is that the other six haven’t made specific policy proposals of their own in their mailers or other written materials, at least not to the level of detail DeLay has.

The mailers and campaign websites from the other six candidates include pledges about their values — transparency, racial equity or responsible spending, for example — and their intentions to pursue policies of a certain type, like supporting projects to combat climate change or promoting affordable housing. 

Only DeLay’s mailers have claims specific enough that readers asked ELi to look closely at them.

DeLay’s mailers propose certain reforms for the East Lansing Police Department and City government.

Under the heading of “police reform,” DeLay proposes to “reinvest 25 percent of ELPD’s budget into a new Community Services Department by 2025, and refocus the Police Department’s efforts on the services they are trained to provide.” 

The relevant portions of one of DeLay’s mailers. (The bottom portion has been cropped for spacing purposes, as it doesn’t pertain directly to this reporting.)

ELi asked DeLay by email if he thinks this proposal could realistically be achieved in contract negotiations between the City and police unions, and by 2025. 

DeLay answered that he doesn’t think the police contract with the City will inhibit this reform. In seven years of reporting on City Council, ELi finds that few if any recent East Lansing Councils have gotten openly involved in police contract negotiations, although they have always had the power to do so. 

He also noted that he wants to reduce the budget of the police department, but not the number of officers or jail employees.

“Additionally my focus is on the department’s specific operating budget, not the retirement benefits that are included under the personnel line item (an issue that I consider to be separate and part of the larger pension question). If you look at 2020 to 2021 it looks like the department’s budget was cut by something like $750,000+, when in reality much of that was just a reduction in retirement costs attributed to the department that was absorbed by income tax revenue. I don’t really count that as a reduction, because I could just divert more of that cost to be covered by a different revenue source and pretend that I’m reforming police when in reality it’s just moving numbers around.”  [Interview occurred over email, and responses in this article have not been changed to meet ELi’s style.]

He cited a few recent examples of City Council debating spending money on police equipment — tear gas canisters and equipment vests, specifically — as a portion of the police budget that Council could have decided to spend elsewhere.

“In other words,” DeLay wrote, “many budgetary items are not subject to the union contract. While determining the future of the jail employees could be an issue, as well as looking at moving social workers and the Neighborhood Service Officers into a new department could require some negotiating, I am confident that any issues that would arise from a contract stand point can be negotiated in good faith.”

Another police reform proposed by DeLay is to “terminate officers that have lost the community’s trust.” 

Council does not have the power to order the firing of an employee; under the City Charter, the Council has only the power to hire and fire the City Manager and City Attorney. The City Manager can decide to fire an employee, subject to the limits of contracts and applicable laws.

So, ELi asked what process DeLay intended to implement or follow for these kinds of employment terminations. DeLay answered that he envisions the Police Oversight Commission “as the mechanism through which these determinations are made.”

“My understanding is that the commission is not currently empowered to make disciplinary recommendations to the Chief,” DeLay wrote, “however, I feel that they should have that power and would work to make that change (as well as developing just cause criteria). Additionally, if the commission disagrees with the Chief’s decision they can appeal that to the city manager, who makes the final call. While the city manager may have supervisory authority over the police department, the council has authority over the city manager, and so I envision a system where the Oversight Commission has the ability to recommend termination, and that there is a system of appeals that ends with the Council having the final say.”

DeLay also calls for closing the City jail in his mailer. ELi asked if the intent would then be to use Ingham County jail to detain/hold people arrested by ELPD. 

DeLay first noted there is a difference between a City jail and a holding area, and said that East Lansing and Lansing are the only municipalities that have their own jails in Ingham County. So, while he is proposing getting rid of the East Lansing jail, it doesn’t mean the City would be without a holding area for people charged with things like disorderly conduct, who are likely to be released in a matter of hours. 

For people who would have otherwise been in the East Lansing jail, DeLay wrote that he sees a few options. 

“Either taking them to the Ingham County Jail (which will be a brand new facility [because county voters approved this already]) OR working with Lansing and Ingham on a regional facility,” Delay wrote. “Lansing and Ingham have been talking about doing something in downtown Lansing, and I think that EL should get in on that conversation, as the consolidation of services would reduce costs and allow us to reinvest the savings back into community services.”

Additionally, ELi asked DeLay about his proposal to reduce Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request fees and stay in compliance with state laws governing the costs and rules of FOIA. Essentially, DeLay (who noted he is not an attorney) doesn’t see state law as being an obstacle in a public body deciding to reduce fees, as it “establishes ceilings, not floors” for charges. 

This point about state law is correct, and Council does have the power to shape how FOIA is managed in the City. East Lansing’s City Council has not changed FOIA policy since Mark Meadows was mayor in 2018, three years and three mayors ago. ELi has reported that the City has become less transparent under the current Council and City Attorney

Voters also inquired with ELi about how Council candidate George Brookover, a local attorney who has represented numerous clients with matters before the City, would manage potential conflicts of interest, if elected.

ELi sent Brookover the following question about this matter: “…we’ve had a number of readers ask how you’d manage potential conflicts of interest as you’ve represented numerous clients in matters before the City in your years as an attorney?” 

Brookover sent the following response: “no conflict of interest exists as the cases are resolved.I question your ‘sources’.In my ‘years as an attorney’, I’ve both represented the City and opposed it.There are no active cases nor ,obviously,if elected,would I ever represent someone against the City.” [Interview occurred over email, and responses in this article have not been changed to meet ELi’s style.]

Brookover had applied to be City Attorney in the last round of call for proposals, and he received an interview but was not selected for that position.

Disclosure: Brookover represented ELi in two FOIA lawsuits against the City of East Lansing (read more about how we handled that). In the first, Judge Wanda Stokes ruled for the City and we subsequently withdrew the second case, which had also been assigned to Stokes.

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