New East Lansing Council Member Dana Watson: “Today Is Exciting”

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Raymond Holt for ELi

Current City Councilmember Dana Watson participates in a July 24, 2019 Planning Commission meeting.

People had been talking to Dana Watson about running for a City Council seat well before two members of East Lansing’s City Council abruptly resigned on July 14. 

Then, with two seats vacant and applications open, more people encouraged Watson to put her name in. 

Ironically, “one of the biggest supporters that was encouraging me to consider running for Council before everything happened,” Watson said, “was Mark Meadows.”

Watson will now take one of the empty seats on Council left by the resignations of Meadows and Mayor Ruth Beier. Watson was appointed unanimously in the first round by a three-member Council on Saturday morning.

She will serve alongside Ron Bacon, the other appointee. (We’ll be bringing an interview with Bacon later today.)

A health educator by trade, Watson brings an important voice to Council in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, but she’s also hoping to grapple with other big issues.

“Today is exciting,” Watson told ELi on Saturday evening. “This moment is exciting. I’m looking forward to serving the City in a different capacity.” 

Watson is currently a member of the City’s Planning Commission, and in that capacity she has in recent meetings made a point to emphasize the social equity provisions in state laws governing recreational marijuana retail. 

The program, run by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) of the state’s department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), is “available as a provision under MRTMA to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement.”

As different retailers have applied for permits, questions about their social equity plans and past work are now becoming part of the discussion. 

“I look forward to understanding more what we can do to honor the equity piece that LARA put in place,” Watson said.

Housing is another important cause for Watson, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Capital Area Housing Partnership (alongside Meadows). 

She says she looks forward to “understanding where we’re at in the City for housing, as far as affordability goes and as far as maybe building too much for too many groups and not enough for other groups.”

In the last year, several new major housing developments aimed primarily at students have been completed in East Lansing, including The Landmark and The Hub. The Center City District, which brought The Landmark, also brought Newman Lofts, but that age-55-and-over rental building has not drawn a lot of tenants, and the developer has asked about removing the age restriction.

The Park District project will see The Abbot open soon, with more market-rate apartments. That three-building project also involves a hotel and a forthcoming affordable-housing rental building to be constructed just south of Valley Court Park.

Any of the work Watson, Bacon or the rest of Council wants to do will have to fit in a budget already burdened with unanticipated Covid-19 related expenses and losses of revenue.

East Lansing’s first full-year income tax filing deadline was July 31. The revenues are expected to be down due to the pandemic, because MSU employees working from homes outside the City won’t pay tax to East Lansing on that income. But right now there just isn’t a clear picture of what, precisely, the financial situation is.

Regardless of how big the pie ends up, Watson wants to see a bigger slice go toward social services. The amount already devoted is miniscule, she said.

“But you look at most cities’ pies,” Watson said, “and it’s still a very small percentage that goes towards social services.”

A self-admitted introvert, Watson says she felt well-prepared for her interview and left it feeling confident she represented herself and her views well. The notes of support from people watching were a positive sign.

She knew she liked the work she does every day, both at her job and serving the City and Lansing area, and now she’ll continue that work also as a member of East Lansing’s City Council. 

“I have important things that I want to say and that I want to share and offer to the community,” Watson said.

See Watson’s resume as submitted with her application here.

Disclosure: Dana Watson has been serving as the Chair of ELi’s Community Advisory Board. As a member of Council, she will no longer fill that role as ELi’s policies do not allow elected officials to serve on our boards while they are in office.

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