Over the last two days, the 13 candidates selected to pitch themselves to fill one of the two open seats on City Council have discussed and represented a diverse set of issues and backgrounds, both personal and professional.
The “interviews” for the two open seats on Council took place across two meetings, one Thursday evening followed by another on Friday morning. These were not conventional interviews, as the candidates knew the eight questions in advance and were not asked any follow-up questions.
The only challenge was beating the 25-minute clock, which all did. Some applicants read from notes or full scripts, others spoke with a more off-the-cuff style.
Responding to a text message sent during a dead-air time in the process about the lack of follow-up questions to candidates, Mayor Aaron Stephens said he wants to create an institutional plan for filling vacancies in the future.
“Some [presentations] have been more performance than others but I also think we got a lot of answers that might have been based in a few bullet points and then they spoke organically,” Stephens wrote. “Unfortunately there isn’t a road map for this, but one thing that I would like to do after this process is over is set one so if there is a vacancy in the future, future councils have a map to go forward on.”
This is not the first time Councils have had to select members. The Charter calls for selection by remaining members following a mid-term vacancy.
Stephens, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg, and Council member Lisa Babcock will convene again tomorrow, Saturday, at 10 a.m. to discuss the candidates and appoint two. The three on Council will have to agree on the two appointees.
The two appointed will then be sworn in, given some training, and will meet with the rest of the Council for the first time on August 11.
Candidates took the questions as a jumping-off platform to speak to a range of issues.
Some issues — COVID-19 and the related economic response, Michigan State University students returning amid the pandemic, racial bias in policing and government — were featured in virtually every candidate’s answers. Some of these issues were baked into the questions purposefully, as the remainder of the term the two new members will serve are expected to be heavily centered on COVID-19 and East Lansing’s ongoing policing reforms.
Several candidates spoke about development around the City, including discussing the work of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the Downtown Development Authority and Planning Commission, also mentioning the Evergreen Properties. A handful also brought up the City’s significant pension problem and the extraordinary economic strain being put on the City now.
Even with a core set of issues facing the City, with the candidates ranging from an insurance agent to a former Marine-turned FOIA expert and from relatively young people to senior citizens, the ideas presented to grapple with problems varied widely.
And now instead of an election by the people after months of discussion to decide who is most wanted, it will be a selection by three people after two days of auditions.
We will, of course, bring you a report on the outcome.
You can watch the first set of presentations here, and the second set here. The agenda for tomorrow’s meeting is not yet posted, but will show up here. You can speak at public comment during that meeting. You can also write to Council via email.