Big Governmental Decisions Coming in East Lansing

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It’s going to be a busy week for East Lansing’s government. Here’s a rundown of what to expect and how to weigh in before decisions are made.

Contract extension for the City Manager? City Council has been holding closed-door performance reviews of City Manager George Lahanas for the past two weeks. This week’s agenda shows a potential vote on a new contract for Lahanas. 

In Feb. 2019, Council gave Lahanas a new contract with a big salary bump. That contract isn’t set to expire until June 2021, but Mayor Aaron Stephens has been pushing now to extend Lahanas’s contract after Ruth Beier – in her resignation as mayor in July –  warned Council would be “coming for Lahanas” next

Stephens and Lisa Babcock have been negotiating the new draft contract, which has an ending date of June 30, 2024. It includes a base salary of $167,000 with automatic increases of 1.75% annually. 

With perks, the package is worth about $200,000 annually. If Council votes to terminate Lahanas for anything other than “gross malfeasance,” the City will owe him a year’s pay plus a year of health, dental, and life insurance for him and his family.

ELi recently reported on Lahanas’s “360 review,” which was actually a survey of 24 of his employees chosen by him. ELi’s reporting team found that the list of subordinates asked to rate Lahanas’s performance closely matches the list of employees granted assigned vehicles and car allowances by Lahanas — they are mostly high-level administrators.

Raymond Holt for ELi

City Manager George Lahanas at Council’s Jan. 14, 2020, meeting.

Lahanas is also currently a finalist for the City Manager job in Mankato, Minnesota.

Contract with new City Attorneys: Council’s agenda for Tuesday also shows a vote on a contract with Foster Swift for that firm to replace Tom Yeadon of the McGinty firm as City Attorney.

As Council indicated it wanted following a recommendation by Council member Ron Bacon, the contract has a $500,000 annual cap. But there are service exceptions written into the contract that could result in the City spending more than half a million in a year for legal services.

Lahanas has not responded to requests from ELi for a complete run-down of legal expenses in the last fiscal year.

The drafting of the contract with Foster Swift was managed for the City by the firm Keller Thoma, which handles the City’s labor contracts, on recommendation by Lahanas. The contract includes a clause indicating that Foster Swift won’t handle labor contracts – guaranteeing continued separately-paid work in that area. (The proposed contract suggests this carve-out is called for in the City Charter, but the charter just says litigation may be managed separately from the City Attorney’s ”normal duties” contract.)

Newest tall building proposal – this time, office space: On Tuesday night, City Council will also hold a public hearing on the MSUFCU downtown office building proposal and will likely vote through a decision. Last week, we brought you a report on that proposal along with the new north side rendering. See that here.

Photo shows what is there now and what would be there if built as rendered.

In response to our Chatty Mailer on this, ELi reader Raoul O. Mitts suggested that the north wall might have an architectural mural like those created by Richard Haas. But right now, the north wall is set to be solid brick with a gray and green pattern. Whatever Council ultimately approves is what will be built if the credit union goes through with the project.

Fewer lanes for cars on Abbot Road? On Tuesday, Council is likely to vote in favor of a proposal to reduce Abbot Road’s car lanes from four to three from Saginaw Street to Lake Lansing Road. This will allow for bike lanes along that stretch. 

The same issue comes before Transportation Commission the night before, according to that commission’s agenda. The Transportation Commission will also weigh in on a parking reduction for Ardson Road this week.

What’s not on Council’s agenda is interesting. Several weeks ago, City Planning staff had told the Council to expect two presentations this month on the DDA’s Evergreen Ave. properties and the River Caddis Development concept. But those haven’t shown up, and the issue is also not on the DDA’s agenda for this week. 

A rendering of The CITADEL from the original proposal for the DDA’s properties. This is looking north across Albert Ave., with Evergreen Ave. to the left and the alley to the right.

ELi reported in July that River Caddis wants 450 more days of exclusivity plus Tax Increment Financing and to have the City deal with the cost of building new parking. Their current exclusive contract expires in about a month. It remains to be seen if the DDA will renew it.

DDA looks at hiring counsel: After years of using the City Attorney for its business, the DDA is considering hiring specialist counsel for development deals. It will take that issue up again this Thursday. The DDA made this move before Council voted to terminate Yeadon’s contract, so it is possible the DDA will change course. Foster Swift had been among the applicants for the DDA contract.

Less park, more concrete parking for bikes? The DDA this week will also take up a proposal to pave over more of Sharp Park to add more bike parking

City staff is suggesting paving over two more sections of Sharp Park to create more bike parking. The photo from the DDA agenda shows one section marked by City staff.

Planning Commission has some new business, too. This week, Planning Commission will take up (another) request to convert first-floor space of 300 Grand River Ave. to apartments. It will also take up a proposal to build a marijuana retail location and hotel on West Road. 

Did you miss last week’s Council? If so, you can see the meeting here, and you can find the City’s day-after summary here

If you missed our report on Harbor Bay stunning Council members last week with news they’re renting out apartments in Newman Lofts to people under age 55, find that here. So far, the City has not taken action on notifying Newman Lofts of default on the ground lease or violation of local law. Stay tuned to ELi on that.

You can find information on all the week’s meetings, including how to participate, at this special page. If you want to communicate in writing, you can use these links to send email:

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