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Tuesday, August 17,2010

Kids in the Hall

To CoW, or not to CoW?

by Andy Balaskovitz
An ongoing divide between the Lansing City Council was on full display at Monday night’s meeting, as the Council President A’Lynne Robinson sought to refer all items of business to the Committee of the Whole. There was no legislative action scheduled for Monday’s meeting.

There were 15 items on the agenda that First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt, At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood and At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries thought should have gone to various committees for recommendations. For example, a letter to discuss a special land use permit or allocating funds may have traditionally gone to the Development and Planning or the General Services committees, respectively.

However, at the start of the meeting, Robinson intended to send all 15 to CoW. Her rationale was that she wanted the full Council to review orders of business, even though traditionally they might have gone to specific committees.

Wood, who chairs the Ways and Means and Public Safety committees, saw this as a shot to her credibility. “Are you saying I’m not doing my job?” Wood asked. “I don’t understand the purpose of moving the entire agenda to CoW. I’m baffled by the whole thing and feel like you’re chastising committees and chair-people of these committees.”

Jeffries found Robinson’s move to be out of line with the traditional committee structure and pressed that six votes were needed to suspend the rules of the City Charter in order to do this. He had worries that placing them all before CoW, which won’t take them up until Aug. 30, would cause delays in getting things done.

“We’ve had to delay projects because we can’t get them out (of committee),” Jeffries said. “This is wrong-headed and I see more delays coming.

“We are bypassing the committee process for the first time in decades,” he added.

Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar said that arguing over this now was like “splitting hairs,” and said if they really wanted to start talking about delays, then talk about the snow removal ordinance that has been sitting in committee for months.

City Attorney Brig Smith weighed in on the matter and said that while Jeffries is correct there are instructions explaining which committees take up what matters, they are merely instructions and don’t have definitive rules. In the end, as directed by the charter, all committees will review what is sent to them, he said.

It finally came down to a role call vote to send these items to CoW, and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko tried to abstain from voting. When reminded that she couldn’t, Yorko gave the final fifth and necessary vote, passing the motion to send the items to CoW.

Wood was furious.

“I have watched the deterioration of the Council over the last year. You have chosen to take my responsibilities away from me,” she said. “I am mystified why this is good for the public.

“This does not represent good government,” she said.

Robinson responded that she was offended by Wood’s comment and, after an interruption by Wood, called her out of order. Of the 15 items on the agenda, 10 were sent to CoW.

The meeting proceeded to public comment and finally adjourned to begin CoW, at which Jeffries, Wood and Hewitt were not present.

On CoW’s agenda was to make a recommendation on whether Abundant Grace Church should receive a special land-use permit to open up a 1,200-person capacity church at 5750 S. Cedar St. in the big box store that used to be a Farmer Jack supermarket.

After lengthy discussion between city of Lansing Planning Director Bob Johnson, Lansing Zoning Administrator Susan Stachowiak, members of the congregation and the CoW, Yorko made a motion to table the item until the church can prove in more detail how they intend to repurpose the interior and exterior of the property and finance everything. That motion passed unanimously.

The church collected money from its roughly 200 members to pay $700,000 in cash for the property. Representatives from the church refused comment after the meeting.

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