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Friday, October 9,2009

Kids in the Hall

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

by Neal McNamara

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen took a moment for personal privilege. During the allotted time for Council members to speak at the beginning of the meeting, Allen directed her comments to the residents of the Second Ward, who, over the weekend, received a mailing from the campaign of Mayor Virg Bernero claiming that Allen does not support public safety.


She was visibly upset in her comments — noting at the end the Fraternal Order of Police and the Lansing Fire Department have endorsed her — though Bernero was not there to see it. (He has not been at a Council meeting in three weeks.)


The glossy eight-and-one-half-inchby-11-inch flier (paid for by the wealthy Bernero campaign), with its photo of an “a-ten-hut!” cadre of Lansing police officers, advertises that Bernero and Tina Houghton, Allen’s Second Ward challenger, “put public safety first.” In the bottom right corner of the flier is a picture of Allen and — why the heck not — Bernero’s challenger, At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, and a paragraph that reads “Carol Wood and Sandy Allen talk about supporting public safety, but they voted to take money away from our Police Department so they could add more staff to the City Council office.”


The proof, according to the flier, is a vote that took place on May 12, 2008, which approved the city budget. In that budget, Bernero had requested $44,000 to further fund police department surveillance cameras around the city. Now, the flier does not say anything about surveillance cameras, favoring a more damning statement that makes Allen and Wood appear like a couple of madwomen trying to reel in bucks for the Council offices at the expense of your safety. But it’s just not that simple.


In 2007, Bernero had raised around $54,000 to fund the surveillance cam eras for six months, letting taxpayers off the hook for the hot-button cameras. During a December 2007 Council vote on whether to allow Bernero to use his non-taxpayer funds to pay for the cameras, Allen voted yes. (Allen had previously voted with the majority in rejecting a bigger request from Bernero to fund the cameras with city funds. In that same meeting, Bernero stated that he could raise more money to fund the cameras.)


Fast forward to May 12, 2008: The Council voted unanimously — meaning that along with Allen and Wood, At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries and Kathie Dunbar, who are also up for election this year, voted for this, too — to transfer $44,000 from the “police surveillance camera project” budget to the capital improvements budget, then to the general fund, which could be used to increase Council personnel. But Wood amended the budget to say, “The Mayor has raised sufficient private funds to lease and maintain five surveillance cameras for fiscal year 2008-2009. The Mayor may until he is able to privately fund the remaining cameras, shift camera locations to provide for the widest possible coverage until such time that additional cameras may be procured through private funding.”


So, in a unanimous vote, what the Council did was allow the cameras to stay, but not at the taxpayers’ expense. But, you would be on the hook for some more staff for Council.


Anything else go on in city government this week? Council on Monday night again gutted the consent agenda. The agenda was pretty light this week, setting public hearings for “make safe or demolish” orders, a couple of tributes, and two entities applying for nonprofit status. It was Wood this week who removed each item, but it was First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and Dunbar who engaged in argument about the use of the consent agenda toward the end of the meeting. The thing was also discussed, at great length, at last Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, to which no real conclusion was reached. On Monday night, Allen suggested that the issue be brought up again at the next CoW meeting, which won’t happen until Oct. 15.



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