Two East Lansing City Council members — Mark Meadows and Mayor Ruth Beier — resigned abruptly during Tuesday’s Council meeting following a 3-2 vote to terminate the City Attorney’s contract.
City Attorney Tom Yeadon’s contract will terminate on October 1. Aaron Stephens will now become Mayor of East Lansing. Council members Jessy Gregg and Lisa Babcock remain on Council.
According to East Lansing’s City Charter, resignations of Council members must be made in writing and filed with the City Clerk. They will then be forwarded to the remaining members of Council.
The Charter then directs that the remaining members of Council will appoint members to fill empty seats until the next regularly scheduled Council election, which will be in November 2021. The Council has 30 days to make the appointments to the two vacancies.
The Council will need to elect a new Mayor Pro Tem (substitute mayor).
It is unknown at this time if Beier and Meadows have tendered their resignations in writing.
After announcing her resignation in a personal point of privilege, Beier thanked Tom Yeadon, of the McGinty, Hitch, Housefield, Person, Yeadon & Anderson, P.C. law firm. That firm has had the City Attorney contract for at least 60 years, with the work bid out only in recent years.
“I’m humiliated to be part of this Council,” Beier said immediately after the vote to end the contract. She began thanking Yeadon before ultimately announcing her resignation and saying she doesn’t think Tuesday’s vote is a “good omen for East Lansing.”
Immediately after Beier left the meeting, Meadows took his own point of privilege to announce his resignation before proceeding with a long statement thanking City staff and Yeadon and reminiscing on the good work he got to do with other people in government.
“This will take a little bit of time so I want citizens to know the decision I have made to resign is not spontaneous and has been contemplated by me for several months,” Meadows said, with tears in his eyes, before signing off from the virtual meeting.
Both Beier and Meadows accused the three members voting to terminate Yeadon’s contract of violating the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by allegedly deciding the matter outside of Council. In their responses, the three denied any OMA violations.
The Michigan OMA guidebook indicates “an informal canvas by one member of a public body to find out where the votes would be on a particular issue does not violate the OMA.”
Once Beier and Meadows exited the call, Stephens took a moment to thank the two members who had resigned for their service.
Gregg spoke next, referring to her time reporting on City Council. (Gregg was a reporter for ELi before deciding to run for election.) In the prior makeup of the Council, Gregg said, three members — Beier, then-Mayor Meadows and then-member Erik Altmann — “railroaded” the other two who often held opposite opinions, Stephens and Shanna Draheim.
“I have been accused of immature behavior, [and] you can think what you think,” Gregg said. “The actions of two elected people who have vacated their seat because they didn’t get their way is equally reprehensible. So although I enjoyed serving with them, I am extremely disappointed in their actions tonight.”
Gregg named herself as “culpable” in the “clumsy nature” of Yeadon’s contract being terminated. This was the original source of Beier’s anger.
A fiery exchange over the way the decision came forward
When the matter came up as Agenda Item 6.1, “Consideration of the City Attorney contract,” Beier asked for Babcock, who introduced the item, to elaborate. The agenda item came only with what was essentially a blank page.
“For several reasons, some of which have been articulated tonight and on other occasions,” Babcock said, she felt it was appropriate to move to end the contract with Yeadon.
During public comment, several citizens called for Yeadon’s contract to be terminated over his office’s handling of prosecutions. Pressure has been building for years among those unhappy with his work on other matters, but Council after Council had kept the contracts going, indicating they were satisfied with the situation.
Like Beier, Meadows asked for a statement of reasons as to why the idea was proposed. Babcock responded that the contract doesn’t require reasons and said the Council had experiences demonstrating the need for change.
“I’ll jump in to that ridiculous response,” Beier said in response to Babcock’s answer.
Beier angrily argued that hiring and firing requires reasons and that just because the power to fire without reason exists, it shouldn’t be exercised. To do that was something “no decent human being” would do, Beier said.
She continued, saying a “grown up council” would go to an executive session to discuss a problem and it wouldn’t be done in public. She said again what was being done is “nearly inhuman.”
Beier specifically implicated ELi Managing Editor Alice Dreger in her remarks about firing Yeadon. She claimed other members of Council had been “loaded up” by Dreger like she had been about Yeadon’s work.
Beier said that when she first came to Council, she spent nearly a year and a half trying to fire Yeadon, but then decided to use him as an attorney to her benefit. She said he had adequately explained to her all public concerns about his work, and mentioned that she had spoken with the FBI about him.
Finally, Beier stated she believed the firing was illegal, in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, because three members of Council — Babcock, Gregg and Stephens — had “conspired” outside a public meeting to fire Yeadon. This, Beier said, gave Yeadon a legal opening to sue the City.
“If you are happy with that, go right after him,” Beier concluded.
Babcock responded first and said that only Yeadon could have requested an executive session to discuss “personnel matters” under OMA, as he is the employee in question. She said she had been careful to follow OMA for this contract matter — something that by OMA rules must be voted on in public.
“The rest I will respect as your thoughts,” Babcock told Beier.
Stephens responded next. After thanking the City Attorney for his work, he raised the issue of Council’s vote to extend Yeadon’s contract last year. He posited that an Open Meetings Act violation had occurred then between three members of council — Beier, Meadows, and Altmann — before they came to a meeting at which they all voted to keep the contract.
He called Beier’s comments on open meetings “disingenuous” in this regard.
Stephens didn’t talk to Gregg about the proposal, he said, and the only person to ask him that opinion was Babcock. It was his belief, he said, that discussing things with one other member of Council is not an OMA violation.
“Look up ‘disingenuous,’” Beier retorted before implying Stephens had said that, because the OMA had been violated in the past by previous Councils, it would be OK to violate it now.
Meadows agreed with Beier’s read on the situation in regard to OMA violations and argued there is a process to be followed that Babcock, Gregg and Stephens deviated from. Yeadon was not directly confronted with concerns, Meadows said; he hadn’t been told of concerns by other Council members and the move to terminate his contract came from nowhere.
On the matter of notification and executive session, raised by Beier and Babcock, Meadows pointed out it’s true what Babcock said about requesting an executive season, but nothing on Tuesday’s agenda said anything about personnel action or firing.
He finally added he had sat down with Babcock last week and was told there were three votes to terminate the contract. That, Meadows said, is the violation.
Beier then joined in criticizing Babcock, Gregg, and Stephens on the subject of transparency, something she said all three love to tout but in actuality fail to adhere to. She said Gregg had used the word transparency “at least a hundred times in her campaign,” that Babcock uses it in every sentence, and that “Stephens will have it on his tombstone.”
“Take your transparency and put it where it belongs,” Beier said.
Gregg answered,“This discussion is the most transparent thing that has happened on Council since this started.”
Gregg continued, noting that she and Babcock did talk about the proposal to each other and shared the same opinion. She then spoke to Stephens, she said, but only about who would second the motion to get the item of the contract on the agenda. Council’s rules require two people or the mayor to put something on the agenda.
Under her understanding of OMA, Gregg said, she didn’t think that was a violation.
Beier then moved to “call the question” to try to force a vote on the measure without further discussion, which failed 2-3 as only Beier and Meadows voted yes.
But soon after, the vote ensued. Then Beier and Meadows resigned.
Stephens takes over in the mayor’s chair
After this, Stephens called a short break and then came back to function as Mayor, as required of him by the City Charter. He led the Council through discussions and votes on downtown parking, site plan applications, and more.
At the end, he took his own personal point of privilege and recognized it had been “an extremely difficult meeting” that “will be felt in the city” for a long time to come. He said this would be his only term as mayor as he would not seek to be reelected to Council — something he has been saying for a long time. Instead, he will just try to serve the people of East Lansing for the remainder of his term, he said.
“To members of City staff and the community,” Stephens said, “I want to say we will continue, persevere and keep in the fight to make East Lansing a beautiful place for all. We will continue the great work city staff has done on that, and keep moving it forward.”
Correction: This article misquoted Meadows saying his resignation had been contemplated for him for “years,” but he said “months,” so this has been corrected at 11:40 a.m. on day of publication.