It’s been three weeks since East Lansing’s City Council has met, and the packed agenda for this Tuesday’s meeting shows it. Here’s a rundown of what Council is expecting to undertake on Tuesday night, July 13.
After two years with no designated Deputy City Manager, the City Manager is naming one.
Two years ago, City Planning Director Tim Dempsey left the City’s employ. At the time he left, Dempsey was also East Lansing’s Deputy City Manager, so that meant that his departure left that second-in-command-of-the-city position vacant. While City Manager George Lahanas hired a replacement Planning Director, he has never designated a Deputy City Manager to replace Dempsey (although ELi asked repeatedly about the vacant position).
Now, two years after Dempsey’s departure – and several weeks after Lahanas was away in Greece visiting family – Lahanas is “comply[ing] with the City Code and City Charter requirements that successors to the City Manager be identified,” according to the agenda item report.
Lahanas is designating Dempsey’s successor in the Planning Department, Tom Fehrenbach, as “Acting City Manager if I am unavailable or unable to discharge the regular duties of the City Manager.”
If Fehrenbach is unavailable, Lahanas wants the following people to take charge of the City, in this order: Police Chief Kim Johnson, Finance Director Jill Feldpausch, Director of Human Resources Shelli Neumann, and Interim Fire Chief Dawn Carson. According to the Charter, Council must approve the City Manager’s pick.
Three substantial policing issues appear on this week’s agenda.
This week, Council is looking to pass an ordinance and associated policy resolution to create an Independent Police Oversight Commission. In the words of the resolution, the commission is being established “to oversee the conduct of the City of East Lansing police force.”
The draft ordinance states that the specific purpose “is to increase accountability” of ELPD “and to strengthen conditions leading to trust in the police department by the community that it is pledged to serve.” The Commission is expected to “give priority to addressing racial inequities as well as use of force in policing. The Commission will enable members of the community to participate in reviewing and making recommendations about police department policies, practices, and procedures, and it will provide means for prompt, impartial, and fair review of complaints brought by individuals against police officers or the police department.”
Also on this week’s agenda is a resolution to change the City’s Disorderly Conduct code to require the City Attorney to “review the seriousness of the charges” in cases of alleged disorderly conduct. The goal is to attempt to stop incidences where police officers use disorderly conduct charges to “deflect needed scrutiny from allegations of police misconduct.”
Additionally, on this week’s Council’s “consent agenda” – a long list of action items normally passed without discussion – there is a plan to approve a contract for “Fair and Impartial Policing Consultation” for ELPD. This agenda item is over 200 pages long and calls for paying The CNA Corporation, described as a Virginia not-for-profit corporation, over $110,000 “to ensure departmental policies and practices result in fair and impartial policing within the community.” Because of the length and late provision of this material, ELi has not had time to do any analysis of this proposed work.
We’re formally finding out, for the first time, just what the City’s lobbyist is up to.
Following up on a public information request from ELi, City Council member Lisa Babcock asked City Manager Lahanas to tell Council and the public what the City’s hired lobbyist is up to. For the first time, Tuesday’s agenda includes a “lobbying update.”
That memo from the lobbying consultants, McAlvey, Merchant & Associates indicates that “the City’s lobbying team engages in formal and informal discussions as needed and works to represent the City to its greatest advantage at all times.” Right now, they’re focused on trying to get the City more state funding and seeking to stop the state legislature from outlawing East Lansing’s rental prohibition overlay districts.
The one-page memo provides information only about issues being addressed with no schedule of actions taken by the lobbying firm. Records obtained separately by ELi show the company steadily being paid $25,000 per year by the City of East Lansing through at least June 2020.
Also for the first time, the City Attorney has released a quarterly status litigation report.
Since becoming City Attorney last October, Mike Homier of Foster Swift has not released these reports, which had been issued under former City Attorney Tom Yeadon and pushed into public view by ELi. Now – again at the request of Babcock – this week’s agenda shows a Quarterly Litigation Report.
That report says it includes “all lawsuits to which the City of East Lansing is currently a party,” but it would seem that’s not true.
For example, Tuesday’s litigation report leaves off the lawsuit brought by farmers’ market vendor Country Mill, which has dragged on for four years and cost the City upwards of $200,000. The report is also missing an opioid-related lawsuit in which the City is one of many plaintiffs. And it is missing a lawsuit brought by homeowners whose basements were flooded with sewage on a sunny day. Based on a review of records available, there may be others missing.
The new report does show: the BWL class action suit; the two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suits brought by ELi; an ongoing suit with a man who built a makeshift wall to deal with problems from a fraternity nearby; and a number of property tax appeals from commercial developers and landowners.
The report also shows a FOIA lawsuit from attorney Mike Nichols, who has represented ELPD officer Andrew Stephenson. That suit is seeking, among other things, the release of communications between Mayor Aaron Stephens and his romantic partner, who works in 54B District Court. That suit is ongoing, with discovery in progress. The trial won’t come until at least six months after Stephens leaves office, as he has decided not to run again.
And Council is looking to renew the City Attorney contract with Foster Swift.
Mayor Stephens is listed as “staff contact” on an agenda item this week that calls for “appointing 2 council members to begin the discussions of renewing and negotiating the City Attorney Contract prior to the expiration of the current contract on September 30, 2021. If an acceptable contract draft is reached it will come back to Council to be reviewed and voted on.”
That contract is worth over a half-million dollars per year, not counting extra pay for handling some lawsuits, and the appearance of this agenda items suggests a majority of Council is happy with the work Foster Swift is providing. Foster Swift obtained the contract last September in a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg voting against.
Harper Brewpub’s is looking for a substantial change to its outdoor offerings.
Most outdoor seating requests from restaurants are now being handled administratively by staff. But according to a report in this week’s Council agenda, an outdoor seating concept planned by Harper’s Brewpub on Albert Avenue is significant enough that staff believes Council should have a look and subject it to a much more formal review and approval process. Concerns raised by staff include issues related to food trucks or trailers, an outdoor bar, a dumpster, outdoor TVs being added, and amplified music.
Council is expected to approve a plan for a rehabbed MSUFCU branch and drive-through on the north side of town.
Three parking issues and a fireworks-use expansion are on this week’s agenda.
Council is being asked by staff to approve another short-term lease allowing the City to keep using Lot 11, the Bailey Street surface parking lot behind The Peanut Barrel, as a parking lot. That’s the last large public surface lot in the downtown core, and as ELi has reported, its future remains uncertain. Most of that lot’s property is privately owned, and with just 90-days’ notice, the owners could end the lease, closing the lot.
This week, Council is also being asked by staff to approve a Parking Lease Agreement with the Graduate Hotel to allow them spaces for valet parking. The hotel was built without any on-site parking but instead with an agreement that provided for the hotel to lease 25 spaces in Lot 8, the surface parking lot just north of People’s Church.
The redo of that geographic area means Lot 8 has shrunk, so now the City is set to lease the hotel only 10 spots in Lot 8, at $90/month, plus 30 spots in Lot 15 (the lot just west of City Hall, off Abbot Road), at $85/month, bringing in a total of $41,400 to the City’s parking system per year. Lot 15 had been used by residents of the Evergreen Avenue buildings that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) owns that are set to be demolished imminently.
And, as ELi reported, Council is looking at a number of ways to recognize Juneteenth next year. This includes, on this week’s consent agenda, changing the City’s budget to allow for free parking on Juneteenth. Council’s business agenda includes an ordinance change aimed at allowing “the ignition, discharge, and use of consumer fireworks on Juneteenth,” specifically from just after midnight on June 19 through 1 a.m. on June 20.
The consent agenda also shows additional actions anticipated:
On Tuesday night, Council is expected to reappoint Jim Croom to the DDA. Croom has been serving as Vice Chair of the DDA, with Peter Dewan serving as Chair, but Dewan’s time on the DDA just ended, due to term limits. That means the DDA will need to elect a new Chair at its July 22 meeting. This Tuesday, Council is also expected to appoint Jeffery Friedle and Dan Boles to the Building Board of Appeals.
Also on the consent agenda, Council is also being asked to approve issuance of up to $36 million in bonds to support reconstruction of the sewage system. Water and sewer bills will be used to pay back the costs. There are also two extensions of agreements for trails work, and the setting of a public hearing for Aug. 10 to consider a request regarding a fence near the new SpringHill Suites hotel on Trowbridge Road.
Council is also being asked to approve about $384,000 in contacts for repairs to the Family Aquatic Center, including fixing the sand play area, the water slides, and the pool shell. That money is being drawn from the Income Tax Fund. The aquatic center was closed last year and remains closed this year.
Finally, Council will formally vote to close downtown streets to support the East Lansing Art Festival, which will take place Aug. 7-8.
Want to weigh in on any of this, or on something else?
You can write to City Council by email and also speak at public comment at the meeting by calling 312- 626-6799 shortly after 7 p.m. Use the meeting ID 820 8801 3874 (with no participant ID). You can also use the same meeting ID to attend by Zoom.