The Bond Mystery Continues. What DO We Know Is Happening This Week in City Government?

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East Lansing's disorderly conduct code, up for revision this week, often comes into play when crowds like this one (Oct. 31, 2020) form.

What’s happening in East Lansing government this week?

The people serving on East Lansing’s City Council and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) seem to all be either unable or unwilling to answer questions surrounding the possible $33 million refinancing of the Center City District bonds.

Since City staff won’t respond to our inquiries – and, with an assist from Mayor Aaron Stephens, are doing everything legally possible to withhold material we’ve asked for on the refinancing – we can’t tell you what’s happening.

We do know that the original bond’s first payment, coming to about $3.7 million, is due on Tuesday (Dec. 1), and there’s only about $1.3 million in the account meant to pay it. It’s possible that bondholder Peter Paul Bell won’t mind not being paid all of what he’s due, since the company that would have to make up the $2.4 million payment gap is co-owned by his son, developer Mark Bell.

But legally, experts tell us, that payment gap – and not the biological tie between the bondholder and developer – really should matter to the BRA. The only security to the bonds is the taxes promised from the project, and the City’s bond attorney Bill Danhof of Miller Canfield told Council that the BRA won’t technically be in default, but financial regulators and big investors don’t like to see seven-figure bond payments being missed.

One version of the City’s commission schedules has indicated meetings for both the BRA and the Downtown Development Authority on Monday (tomorrow) at midday. (The two boards have the same membership.) But three members of the DDA/BRA tell us those meetings appear to be on the schedule in error. There isn’t a posted agenda for either meeting. 

BRA Chair Peter Dewan and Vice Chair Jim Croom have been empowered to sign off on refinancing bonds without checking back with the BRA or City Council, which means they could just sign off on a refinancing without telling the public what is happening. We’ve been told refinancing bonds will be issued only if they are in the best interests of the City.

Meanwhile, City Council is set to meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m., as usual – the agenda shows no sign of further discussion of the bonds, and Council will be considering a revised disorderly conduct ordinance. That’s the only item on the business agenda, but it’s a tricky one, as previously reported by ELi.

Council’s “consent agenda” (designed to be voted through without any discussion) features numerous appointments to various boards and commissions, on-street parking changes for Ardson Road and Marshall Street following “neighborhood ballot measures,” and another conflict-of-interest waiver for City Attorneys from Foster Swift (at least the third one of these we’ve seen in about a month), this time for Tech Smith’s tax incentive request.

Council is also to set to approve on the consent agenda Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) Addendums for the City’s retirement plans, including the defined benefit, defined contribution, and hybrid plans.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Human Rights Commission meets with a plan to cover some pretty significant territory. (See the entire agenda here.) Laura Genovich, an attorney with the Foster Swift law firm that represents the City, is listed as a guest speaker to discuss with the commission its legal purview.

The HRC will also revisit goals set in 2019 and, perhaps of most importance, consider recommendations to the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, item 4.3. There is nothing attached for that item, but there are two items listed: “Use of force” and “social workers.”

In a surprise to our Government reporting staff, East Lansing’s Planning Commission will meet on Monday, Nov. 30, at 6 p.m. for a work session to begin review of the plan created by the Shaping the Avenue Committee. That committee had been tasked with creating a draft form-based code for the most densely developed section of the City – a move that, if ultimately passed by Council, will result in a radical change to East Lansing’s zoning code. See the agenda here.

On Thursday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m., the Building Authority is meeting to consider a change and renewal of the lease between the City and Georgio’s Pizza, a lease that came up at their last meeting, too. (That’s the only item on this week’s agenda, shown here.)

The Downtown Management Board is also on this week’s schedule — for Tuesday, Dec. 1 — but there is no agenda posted for that.

Similarly, the Zoning Board of Appeals has a meeting listed for Wednesday, but there is no agenda currently posted.

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