Editor’s note: This is seventh in the series of East Lansing City Council candidate profiles by ELi reporters. Eight candidates are vying for three open Council seats in the Nov. 7 election. Check out ELi’s Elections coverage for more profiles. ELi is partnering with the League of Women Voters for a 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14 City Council Candidate Forum. Click here to help ELi and the League formulate questions for the candidates.
Mark Meadows will enter the November City Council election with the most experience in local government among the candidates.
Meadows, an attorney, has served as East Lansing mayor, state representative and assistant attorney general. His career in East Lansing government goes back to the late 1980s when he served as an initial member on the city’s Commission on the Environment. Meadows was elected to Council as recently as 2019, though he resigned a few months later in July 2020.
Meadows moved to the city in 1980 as a single parent of three children. He eventually remarried, had a fourth child and raised his family in East Lansing.
Meadows’ top priorities
If elected, Meadows’ top priority will be replenishing the city workforce that has recently lost many top level employees. Meadows also said he will work to continue to diversify the city housing stock, strengthen recreational activities, and help improve city finances and the local economy.
Another priority is to bring the city back together after divisive times. This is not unfamiliar territory for Meadows.
In an interview with ELi, Meadows recalled the first time he ran for City Council in 1993. He said tensions were so high in the city, some residents were circulating petitions to have parts of East Lansing absorbed into Meridian Township.
“I felt at that point in time that I could be useful in sort of bringing the city back together,” Meadows said.
The petitions failed, as did Meadows’ initial bid for Council. But he was elected the next cycle in 1995 and appointed as mayor two years later.
Now, East Lansing is facing a new challenge that is causing division within the city – the loss of key staff members.
“Of course, our number one priority is to refill the managerial positions that we’ve lost over this past year,” Meadows said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The fact that we’ve never had to deal with this before means that we have to be pretty creative in how we bring people in, make them feel secure and make them want to make their career here in East Lansing.
“I think we had that,” he continued. “I’m not sure how we lost that.”
Meadows said an essential part of regaining trust will be increasing transparency about internal issues and “partnering with the public.”
Meadows wants to build on past endeavors
The rapidly changing skyline is perhaps the most easily identifiable feature of Meadows’ latest full term on Council from 2015-2019. Many large developments were approved during that period. While Meadows acknowledges there has been mixed feedback on the projects, the large buildings have brought two things he said the city needed – student housing near campus and quality living spaces for seniors.
“We continue to need to provide for a greater integration and diversity of housing opportunity within the community,” he said.
Meadows called homeownership the “definition of stability” in a community and pointed to the single-family homes added in the Hawk Nest neighborhood and Falcon Point as accomplishments he’s proud of.
A longtime member of the Capital Area Housing Partnership board, Meadows acknowledged that, as a college town, around two-thirds of housing in East Lansing will always be rentals. But he stressed the importance of opening pathways for home ownership.
Additionally, Meadows called himself a “bottom-line type of person” and said if elected, he would do a deep dive on city finances.
Meadows said he believes changes made while he served on Council saved the city from financial catastrophe. He referenced the passage of an income tax and the funds generated by recent large developments as actions he helped orchestrate to help the city avoid financial catastrophe.
Some of the work Meadows said he is most proud of involves parks and recreation. He was chair of the Planning Commission’s Parks and Rec Subcommittee that developed the city’s first parks and recreation plan.
Meadows said before East Lansing Recreation and Arts (ELRA) was created, which was similar to today’s Parks, Recreation and Arts Commission, the city lacked good parks. The subcommittee did a study comparing East Lansing to similar communities and realized the city was far behind in recreational opportunities. The group worked to figure out what it would take to improve the options in East Lansing.
“The objective was [to ensure] that no neighborhood would be without a park that kids could walk to or adults could walk to,” he said. “I think we accomplished that.”
Meadows said if he’s elected again, he’d like to revisit the amenities in parks and the number of visitors parks receive to see if improvements can be made.
Meadows, who was a longtime soccer coach in East Lansing, fondly recalls lobbying for and eventually seeing the soccer complex become a reality. He said it was difficult to find a space for the complex at first, but eventually a herb farmer called and offered to sell his land north of the city off Chandler Road.
“It was a lucky thing,” Meadows said.
Along with the soccer complex, he said the softball complex, aquatic center and recreational trails are all things he helped add that have improved the daily lives of East Lansing residents.
Meadows explains 2020 resignation
The last time Meadows was on Council, he resigned following a 3-2 vote by Council members to fire City Attorney Tom Yeadon. Mayor Ruth Beier, who joined Meadows in dissent, also resigned at the meeting.
Meadows explained he found out before the meeting that there were enough votes to fire Yeadon and he was asked by another Council member to ask Yeadon to resign. Meadows did not want to do this, saying the city was receiving good value with its current legal representation and if Council wanted to make a change, it should wait for Yeadon’s contract to expire.
Meadows said he had also heard that City Manager George Lahanas’ job was at risk and he thought getting rid of two of the city’s top employees in the opening months of a global pandemic would jeopardize its ability to deliver key services.
“My feeling was that there had to be an extraordinary action to make the lightbulb go off for the new Council members to sort of change the course they were on,” he said.
Correction: This story was updated at 2:47 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, to correct the role Mark Meadows played in the development of a parks and recreation plan in East Lansing.
Editor’s note: The order of publication of the East Lansing City Council candidates profiles was determined by names being put in a hat and randomly drawn. The order the names were drawn is the order the profiles are running in ELi.