What Happened at City Council Last Night?

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The Aug. 11, 2020, meeting of East Lansing's City Council was held remotely.

The two newest members of East Lansing’s City Council – Dana Watson and Ron Bacon – joined for their first meeting last night, and it was a doozy of a meeting, coming in at five hours, including five public hearings.

ELi will be bringing you in-depth break-out reports of the kind you expect from us on the major issues. Here’s a quick rundown of what happened.

Council members and the City Manager all showed up in matching t-shirts reading “Good trouble,” a reference to the late civil rights icon John Lewis’s leadership. The shirts were apparently provided to them by Elaine Hardy, East Lansing’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Administrator.

The unity continued as Council voted unanimously in favor of everything on which they voted.

That included approval votes on three requests to sell recreational marijuana in spite of some concerns about equity. This means adult-use pot will soon be available for sale at 1950 Merritt Road under the name Pleasentrees, at 3315 Coolidge Road under the name Skymint, and at 1234 E. Grand River Avenue through Compassionate Associates.

It also included two actions relating to anti-racism and policing reform. Council passed a law outlawing biased crime reporting and also agreed to spend $153,000 to hire the Truth & Titus Collective for “Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Training” of all City staff and the Council.

Council also postponed a proposal for creating a temporary system for reviewing complaints made against the police by citizens because of the creation of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission.

Last night’s agenda was supposed to include deciding how to fill the vacancy on that committee to replace Ron Bacon, who had been named but whose appointment to Council disqualifies him. But that dropped off the agenda due to a clerical error. The group has no schedule for convening.

Just before midnight, as its last action, Council backed the mayor’s decision to extend the local State of Emergency and to require the use of masks in the Downtown Development Authority’s district.

Much earlier in the meeting, answering questions from ELi about things notably absent on the agenda, Mayor Aaron Stephens said plans are still on for him and Council member Lisa Babcock to negotiate for an extension of the City Manager’s contract ahead of schedule, behind closed doors. (The decision itself would have to come back to Council in public.) Stephens indicated no plans for a performance review of the City Manager.

Stephens and Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said that Council will deal at a later time with the question of whether to ask voters to add two seats to Council through a City Charter amendment. The idea had been discussed by Stephens, Gregg, and Babcock at the meeting at which they appointed Watson and Bacon. Gregg and Stephens said last night that that issue needs more time for consideration by the now-five-member Council. The deadline for placing a ballot question on the November 2020 ballot passed at 4:00 p.m. yesterday, just before the Council met.

Council also decided to approve the City obtaining a million-dollar line of credit with Fifth Third Bank in order to shift to paying with credit cards instead of checks for “accounts payable.” The move is expected to provide a revenue source because of a Fifth-Third bank rebate incentive program for card holders.

Council’s unanimous votes also included:

Rather than passing legal changes last night to the disorderly conduct code, Council decided to take up reform of that code at its first meeting in September, after the Human Relations Commission has more time to make recommendations.

ELi discovered from a reader tip just before the meeting that the public notice for last night’s Council meeting was wrong, stating it would start at 7 a.m. instead of 7 p.m. The City Attorney told Council this isn’t a problem because the time was correctly posted in two other places.

City staff swapped out the wrong public notice for a corrected one about an hour before the meeting. Said City Manager George Lahanas, “we corrected the posting.”

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