With the resignation of East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens becoming official last night at midnight, and with Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg automatically moving up to fill the role of Mayor, the East Lansing City Council will be without anyone in the Mayor Pro Tem (substitute mayor) role for at least nine more days.
According to the City Charter, “In the event of a vacancy occurring in the office of Mayor Pro Tem, the Council shall fill the vacancy from its elected membership.” If “elected membership” is taken to mean Council members who were elected by voters, that would leave Lisa Babcock as the only member of Council now eligible to become Mayor Pro Tem. (Council members Ron Bacon and Dana Watson were appointed last summer.)
But when ELi asked Council, in advance of last night’s meeting, if a Mayor Pro Tem would be selected at that meeting, and whether anyone but Babcock could actually be selected as Mayor Pro Tem, Gregg answered that the selection of Mayor Pro Tem would be put off to Aug. 19, and that Babcock might not be chosen as Mayor Pro Tem.
“I believe (and a phone conversation with our attorney validated my interpretation of this) that ‘elected Council’ in this case means ‘currently serving Council members,’” Gregg wrote in an email.
She continued: “I don’t think that Council vacancies are so common that the authors of the charter would have anticipated a future where there were only two non-appointed Council members serving [in this case, Babcock and Gregg]. There is nowhere in our charter where it separates the responsibilities and privileges of ‘elected’ Council members from ‘appointed’ Council members.”
Gregg wants to wait until the 19th to deal with the new appointments.
City Manager George Lahanas provided a pensions update.
Eli’s Alice Dreger will be bringing a full, detailed report on this issue and the presentation Lahanas gave on Tuesday in the coming days.
Mark Meadows will be serving in the City’s government again, now as a member of the Seniors Commission.
The 74-year-old Meadows had previously been passed over when he applied for a spot on the Planning Commission earlier this year. Meadows and then-Mayor Ruth Beier resigned from City Council on July 14, 2020, in extraordinary fashion following the 3-2 vote to fire former City Attorney Tom Yeadon.
On Tuesday, responding to a question from ELi, outgoing Mayor Aaron Stephens — who is himself leaving the mayoral position early, to attend the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University — explained why this Council chose to appoint Meadows.
Stephens said that the main reason for Meadows’ appointment was that the Seniors Commission had so many vacancies (four) that if any one member was absent, they could not reach a quorum. So, Stephens said, he interviewed and recommended appointment of all four of the applicants in the pool. (The other new appointees are Babs Krause, Brittany Pazdan, and Kenneth Wirth.)
“While I know that there are mixed feelings about . . . former Mayor Meadows’ service,” Stephens said, “he has a lot of institutional knowledge that is very, very beneficial to the City.”
Currently, the City’s website listing vacancies on boards and commissions shows there are 17 open spots on East Lansing boards and commissions.
As ELi has reported, Meadows has taken an active role in the upcoming City Council elections, endorsing incumbents Dana Watson (whose campaign he has assisted) and Ron Bacon, as well as Chuck Grigsby.
The contract for a Fair and Impartial Policing consultation with CNA Corporation has changed.
The change means that, if the City were to be sued and for some reason CNA Corporation were compelled to take some action that cost them money, the City would be liable for that cost. City Attorney Laura Genovich made clear that the change does not mean the City would be on the hook for costs if CNA Corporation were to be sued.
After ELi asked for clarification on the issue, Genovich explained that this was something CNA Corporation wanted in the contract, and she told CNA’s lawyers that it was a material change so it would have to come back for Council approval. It appeared on last night’s consent agenda, which is normally voted through without discussion of the items on it.
Another step was taken toward appointing members to East Lansing’s new Police Oversight Commission.
Gregg and Bacon volunteered to take on the task of interviewing applicants for the 11 spots on the Oversight Commission, and Council unanimously supported the move. City staff said there have been 42 applicants for the spots. ELi’s Heather Brothers will be bringing a report on this and related issues in East Lansing policing reform.
A resolution to reduce Business Licenses and Entertainment fees for businesses passed unanimously.
Previously, Council passed a resolution amending the budget to waive these fees for businesses that submitted their entertainment licensing paperwork prior to June 30, 2021 — for the period running from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
Now, under a resolution passed on Tuesday evening, if businesses that didn’t get their paperwork submitted by then do get it done by August 31, 2021, they can get the fees reimbursed. This will come at a cost to the City of about $22,300, according to staff materials.
Cathy DeShambo is set to become the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department for the City.
Lahanas told Council it was his intent to hire DeShambo — currently an Environmental Services Administrator for the City — to head the Parks & Rec Department. Lahanas said she will begin in that role on Aug. 23.
Babcock said she supported the appointment, having worked with DeShambo as the Council liaison to the Commission on the Environment. Gregg, who said she sat in on the candidate interviews with Bacon, said there were impressive external candidates, but that DeShambo’s institutional knowledge won out.
Lights at the pickleball and tennis courts?
While she remained largely without comment during the meeting, Watson did ask staff about the lights at the pickleball courts at Patriarche Park in conjunction with Council formally accepting a Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant in the amount of $300,000 for renovations to the pickleball and tennis courts.
Watson noted that the lights have recently not been working. According to City staff, an underground wire leading to the lights was accidentally cut by a crew doing work on nearby underground plumbing for the new bathrooms at the park. Council was told repairs to the lights would be expensive because the work is underground. So it isn’t clear when the lights will be back on.
Many plaudits for Aaron Stephens (and others).
As the outgoing Mayor, Stephens was the subject of an outpouring of gratitude, and he in turn offered extended departing remarks unlike any outgoing Mayor has given, listing dozens of people in his thanks and calling for a ten-minute recess after the celebration, about an hour into the meeting.
Along with the thanks from his Council colleagues and from City staff, State Representative Julie Brixie presented a “Special Tribute” from the State of Michigan to Stephens, with signatures from herself and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, among others. Former Mayor Sam Singh also came to the podium to personally thank Stephens, who was moved to tears by the events.
During his own Council member comment period, Bacon took a moment to offer praise for the ad hoc group that worked to get the name of Pinecrest Elementary School changed to “Dr. Robert L. Green Elementary” in honor of the national civil rights leader and East Lansing resident.
“I want to give congratulations to — including myself — Ron Bacon, Director [of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] Elaine Hardy, Mr. Adam DeLay and Karen Hoene, [Human Rights] Commissioner, for the successful adoption of the name change,” Bacon said. As ELi reported, the School Board voted through the change on Monday.
The next Council meeting will be out of sync with the usual schedule.
Council’s next meeting will be on Thursday, Aug. 19, and will be convened for the chief purpose of appointing someone to fill Stephens’ vacant seat and to elect the next Mayor Pro Tem.