What Happened at City Council Last Night?

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Clockwise from top left: Council members Dana Watson, Aaron Stephens, Jessy Gregg, Lisa Babcock, Ron Bacon, and City Attorney Mike Homier

East Lansing’s City Council held an unusually brief — about half an hour — meeting on Tuesday night. Here’s some of what happened and what we learned in the cross-talk about behind-the-scenes activities.

Eight hours of anti-racist, consciousness-raising training

On Saturday, the five City Council members spent eight hours together – along with City Manager George Lahanas and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Administrator Elaine Hardy – in a consciousness-raising session some of them referred to alternately as powerful, amazing, vulnerability-inducing, and productively uncomfortable.

The workshop was conducted by the Truth & Titus Collection, a team that the City is paying $153,000 for “Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Training” for all City staff and the Council.

Saturday’s session was not open to the public. Michigan’s Open Meetings Act allows “training” of a full Council like this to take place out of the public eye so long as elected officials do not “receive input from officers or employees of the public body” and do not deliberate on or make decisions related to City business. Council members indicated the training was highly personal and did not involve overt consultation on, or decisions about, City business.

Council and the City Manager commit to more prompt sharing of agenda-related materials

As publisher of ELi, on Oct. 15, I put in a written request to the City Council that “any material provided to a full Council, board, or commission in advance of a meeting also be shared with the public on the agenda in advance of the meeting, and that there not be a delay in so providing such material. In other words, if the Council or DDA has it by the time the agenda has been published, it should also be on the published agenda. If they have it on Monday at 9 a.m., it should be added to the agenda for the public on Monday at 9 a.m.”

This request was made in response to a pattern of written materials not being made widely available to the public until after decision-making meetings in the case of certain contracts and other important documents. The delay prevents meaningful participation of the public.

Dana Watson spoke first to this issue at last night’s meeting, saying that as a member of Council, she herself really needs to have materials provided in advance of meetings for her own sake, but she also wants materials released in advance for the public’s benefit. (Before being appointed to Council, Watson was Chair of ELi’s Community Advisor Board.)

City Manager George Lahanas responded that he would make sure materials are available to Council. He did not speak to release to the public.

In a written follow up, Council member Lisa Babcock said that she “completely supports” our request and that she wants to see documents made “not just available to the council members but for the community as a whole.” Mayor Stephens concurred in his spoken remarks, calling the approach of releasing materials to the public in advance helpful and reasonable.

Procedures coming for virtual meetings

City Attorney Mike Homier told Council his office is preparing “procedures for participation in electronic meetings” that Council will need to adopt to be in compliance with the new Michigan law temporarily amending the Open Meetings Act to allow for virtual meetings. He said he expects to bring those procedures for a vote at the next meeting of Council, which is expected to come in early November. The law was amended to allow virtual meetings through the end of 2020.

Lot 4/MSUFCU sale closing approved

Council approved a resolution authorizing Lahanas to sign the final paperwork on the sale of Lot 4 to MSUFCU for construction of a new 7-story office building at the corner of Abbot Rd. and Albert Ave. This adds another tall building to the area, the western portion of downtown known as “the Park District” for its proximity to Valley Court Park.

Lahanas praised the credit union for taking on the project and the voters for approving the sale. Stephens called it a “beautiful day” in the City of East Lansing.

What had been on the agenda but dropped off was a planned discussion and vote on major Park District infrastructure work, specifically along Albert Ave. and Evergreen Ave. Apparently that plan is still not finalized, possibly because the River Caddis proposal for the DDA’s Evergreen properties is still in an uncertain state. (Read more.)

Human Relations Commission is now the Human Rights Commission

Council unanimously approved this name change. Lahanas called the previous term (human relations) “cryptic” and said it caused people to confuse the group with Human Resources. Gregg said she found the term “human rights” to be a better reflection of the group’s mission.

Council member Ron Bacon said the older term caused that commission “difficulty with branding” in terms of letting the public know what they do. He said he hoped the change would allow the group “to do additional things with the brand” in terms of supporting human rights.

Read what’s coming up at other meetings this week in our preview from ELi’s Andrew Graham.

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