Your ELi: Why We Didn’t Cover The County Commissioner Races

Print More

The Ingham County courthouse in Mason.

We’ve been getting several emails and questions about why we haven’t covered the Ingham County Board of Commissioner’s primary or provided more detailed coverage of the recent millages.

As a practice, we cover elections that specifically focus on East Lansing issues, such as the March vote on the sale of public property downtown to MSUFCU and elections to the East Lansing Public Schools’ Board and East Lansing City Council.

A few weeks ago we received a reader question about why they saw signs for Erin Graham, who is the current East Lansing School Board President, for County Commissioner although Erin Graham’s name did not appear on their absentee ballots. I asked our reporter Amalia Medina to follow up on this. 

East Lansing City Clerk Jennifer Schuster told Amalia that “The City of East Lansing falls within four County Commissioner districts, with one of those in Clinton County. Therefore, every registered voter in East Lansing will not have the same County Commissioner race on their ballot.” 

I reported this to the reader who realized they were not in District 9. And I told Amalia to hold off on that story for the time being. We were covering more immediate news: the selection of new members of City Council. I was mostly happy that we answered the reader question accurately. A lot of the work we do at ELi is behind the scenes communications with readers about certain questions. Not all of which result in articles. 

The reader’s question also broached another story that we had been hearing about for quite some time: current School Board President Erin Graham was running against Pam Weil for the democratic nomination for County Commissioner of District 9 in Ingham County. As we know now, Erin Graham won the nomination. This race for county commissioner was intriguing for two reasons beyond the fact that ELPD School Board President was running. First, there was no incumbent, as the current Commissioner Carol Koenig was not running again. Secondly, out of the thirteen districts in Ingham County, it was one of three that included two people in the same party running against each other for the nomination. This LSJ article provided an overview of candidates running who responded to the LSJ’s questions. This City Pulse article delved more deeply into the specific election for District 9.

Earlier this summer at our Community Advisory Board meeting, we discussed covering the race. We debated the issue and the consensus was and it is that to cover East Lansing the way we want to and the way you want us too, we cannot cover all the stories even if our readers want us to do so. 

What we WILL be covering in the future is what the School Board will look like if Erin Graham is elected Ingham County Commissioner for District 9. Our main schools reporter Emily Joan Elliott is eager to take on that very soon. But first she will be reporting on what the beginning of the virtual school year will look for East Lansing students, parents, teachers, and administrators. 

What about the recent millages? Some readers may ask why has ELi covered certain millages even if they are not East Lansing specific? Some of our coverage of these millages include the 2018 20-year millage to build a new Ingham County jail and court complex, 2020 Potter Park Zoo millage increase, and the most recent Elder Person’s Millage. In these articles, the reporters and editors aimed to highlight their specific East Lansing connections. Were the connections always obvious? Well, that depends on the reader. In the future, I want to include voter information for East Lansing residents like we did in March with this East Lansing voter guide

Why didn’t we provide such a guide this time? Well, the simple answer is we had too much to cover too quickly. We knew we could give in-depth coverage of the interviews for the new City Council appointees or really focus on the election. We chose to cover our City Council’s push to fill two vacant seats within the thirty days they became vacant per the East Lansing City Charter. This process consisted of four meetings to hash out interview questions, interview the candidates, and then one for the three remaining members to discuss, deliberate, and vote on their choices. Our reporting included in-depth stories on the July 29 and August 1 meetings, interviews with new Council member Dana Watson and other new Council member Ron Bacon, and follow-up on new discussion points including the popular idea (amongst Council members) of making the five-person council a seven-person council. You could only find such comprehensive coverage in ELi. 

It is also important to state the obvious: we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Covering the COVID-19 pandemic in East Lansing meant we have to actually widen our reporting beyond just East Lansing to include coverage of MSU decisions as they impact the greater East Lansing population as well regional or even statewide resources for people suffering from the public health crisis. In this case, the concern has been that not broadening that coverage might put someone in harm’s way who could be kept safer with clear information from us.

While we are the only publication that focuses so clearly on East Lansing, there are numerous other papers and media outlets that offer in-depth coverage of the county-wide election results. At ELi, we do not see ourselves as the only news source you should go to for local news. We see ourselves as one part of a larger conversation that focuses on issues specific to East Lansing. And you, our readers, are integral parts of that conversation. Thank you for joining the dialogue!

Comments are closed.