Dana Watson and Ron Bacon will fill the two vacant seats on East Lansing’s City Council following appointments made by Council on Saturday morning after a days’ long process of selection.
Watson and Bacon were each approved unanimously by the three-member Council out of 23 total applicants. Council made its decision after nearly two hours of deliberation on Saturday and two meetings dedicated to hearing from 13 finalists.
The two appointments fill empty seats left by the resignations of Mayor Ruth Beier and Mark Meadows on July 14. Watson and Bacon are expected to be sworn in shortly in socially-distanced, small ceremonies at City Hall.
Watson and Bacon’s terms will expire in November 2021. They can run for election at that time if they so desire.
After the votes, Mayor Aaron Stephens, who identifies as Indian and Armenian, noted that this is apparently the first time East Lansing’s Council will be majority persons of color. Watson and Bacon are African American, and Jessy Gregg and Lisa Babcock are white.
According to the City’s communications department, Thelma Evans was the first African American to serve on Council: “She was appointed in 1973 to serve out an unexpired term on Council.”
Watson, a Health Educator for the Ingham County Health Department, also serves currently on the City’s Planning Commission and has served terms on the Human Relations Commission (HRC).
Watson is also on the Board of Directors for the Capital Area Housing Partnership and a board member of the Davies Project — a non-profit that provides rides to appointments for children with serious health conditions.
She has also been serving as the Chair of ELi’s Community Advisory Board, but will now be replaced in that role to avoid conflicts of interest for ELi.
Both her professional background and involvement in City government weighed heavily in Waton’s favor for members of Council.
Bacon, who works in medical sales for Genentech Roche, does not currently serve on any City boards or commissions, but has in the past. He served on the HRC, becoming Chair in his second term, and he completed in East Lansing’s Emerging Leaders training.
He is currently also the secretary of Greater Lansing’s MLK Commission and a board member of the East Lansing Education Foundation. He is also a varsity football coach at East Lansing High School.
It was ultimately Bacon’s familiarity and knowledge with the array of issues facing East Lansing — the budget, COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, public education — and his varied professional and public experience that helped him rise to the top.
Watson was selected and voted in unanimously with relative ease as each member took a moment to explain their “yes” vote before casting it.
In the second round, Bacon eked past two other candidates — Daniel Bollman and Chuck Grigsby. Ultimately, it was Stephens’ and Gregg’s slight preference for Bacon that earned him the nomination. Babcock enthusiastically endorsed the choice.
All three members of Council acknowledged how difficult the process has been. Taking a list of 23 people down to two in a few days, they all said, was one of the hardest things they’ve had to do.
The three said they thought all of the candidates who applied were qualified and capable of bringing their own additions to Council. They encouraged everyone who did not get a seat to continue to be involved in East Lansing, either on boards or commissions or just by making their voices heard.
This is a developing story and we will be adding to it.