Home News  Labor, biz lock horns again for three LCC board spots
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Wednesday, October 14,2009

Labor, biz lock horns again for three LCC board spots

by Kyle Melinn

OK, class. Today's edition of "Elections For Dummies" focuses on the always interesting intrigue surrounding what should be the area's least political board — the seven-member Lansing Community College Board of Trustees.

Let's start with the basics. On Nov. 3, voters are picking three trustees out of seven candidates.

The labels "Republicans" and "Democrats" don't exist. At least not according to the printed ballot.

Instead, the term to know is: "Slate." My definition of "slate" is simply two or more like-minded candidates pooling their money to heighten their visibility. If recent history is a guide, those linking themselves to a slate typically fare better.

The labor unions have a slate. The top tier non-union candidates — typically those tapped by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce — have a competing slate.

Sometimes entire slates are elected, like in 2007 when Jerry Hollister, Deb Canja and Edward Woods III were all ushered in at the same time. Sometimes they are not.

This go around, voters need to be aware of two competing slates. First, there's the union-endorsed slate of attorney Robert Proctor, an incumbent; attorney Lawrence Hidalgo; and communications specialist Thomas Patrick Morgan (former City Pulse managing editor).

Then there's the alternate slate of Canja and former Lansing City Council President Larry Meyer. The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce endorsed both, along with Proctor. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and incumbent Trustee Tom Rasmussen gave the two their nod, as well.

The unions have a vested interest in the election results. Roughly six labor unions represent LCC's employees. With every public institution doing at least a little bit of downsizing, the LCC employee unions would prefer their members aren't laid off or their salaries and benefit gouged.

Then there's the not-so-small matter of infrastructure improvements. The more of them that go around, the more union tradespeople can be called in for work. The benefit for the university is obvious. The better the facilities and programs at LCC, the more marketable it is and the better the education.

If tough financial times call for a looksee at tuition rates, a union slate may consider a hike as an option as part of a larger package.

On the other side, there's the tandem that would cut programming (read staff) before touching tuition. They argue that if a community college education isn't affordable, folks of limited means won't scrounge up the money to go. If they don't go, they won't get adequately trained for jobs. If they aren't trained for jobs, the job providers will look elsewhere for help.

The current board, of which Canja is the chairwoman, prides itself on holding the line on tuition the last few years. Meyer is fitting himself in that mold, too. They've hired public relations goddess Kelly Rossman-McKinney to help get their message out.

But outside of this not-so-subtle difference is something that's infinitely more important: Harmony.

When the LCC board tends to make headlines, it's when they've taken their food fight into the public and made an embarrassing spectacle of themselves — the forced Paula Cunningham resignation in 2006 being the most recent example.

It's almost impossible for a voter to gauge that factor. Who knows if any of the candidates on the ballot — even Brandon Currin of Mason or Deo Wells of Dimondale —will become a human firecracker when combined with the other six?

We do know that in the two years Canja has held the gavel, the public flare-ups have been rare. But is that because the board has dived too much into closed session, as the American Federation of Teachers insinuated earlier this year with the airport building lease question?

Meyer prided himself on coordinating consensus on the Lansing City Council, but is he doing enough in his LCC board campaign to remind voters of his record?

Then there's a concern that the two newbees on the "union slate" would become mindless tools for organized labor, making board compromises arduous and difficult to achieve. But are those fair assumptions to make of a former newspaper editor (of a fine publication, I might add) and a licensed attorney?

The only sure thing appears to be Proctor, whose made his bread as a mediator and arbitrator. How else do you explain the incumbent's endorsement by both union and business?

As for the rest of it, this edition of Elections for Dummies has run out of space.

For more on this and other races, pick up the Oct. 28 election preview issue of City Pulse.

The election results are up to you.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS political newsletter. His column appears weekly.)


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