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Wednesday, February 9,2011

No ways, no how

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt wants off of the Ways and Means Committee. But can he just resign?

by Andy Balaskovitz

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt wants off of the Ways and Means Committee, the three-Council-member team that reviews the city’s finances. He says a new schedule of meeting times would conflict with his full-time job.


“I am not attempting to resign. I have done it,” Hewitt said, adding that he “tendered his resignation” from the committee on Friday.


However, City Attorney Brig Smith is “still reviewing” whether Hewitt can just leave a committee. And Council President A’Lynne Robinson said the decision is up to her — not Hewitt.


“My response has been: serve or don’t serve. It’s your choice but it’s my responsibility to assign (members),” Robinson said. “If a committee member elects to not come to meetings, that’s well within their right to do that.”


Hewitt wants out instead of a potentially bad attendance record. He says the temporary schedule would interfere with his full-time job as senior financial policy analyst at the state Department of Human Services.


“Instead of not showing up, I have asked to go to another committee,” Hewitt said. “So it doesn’t negatively impact my primary employment.”


Hewitt was elected to his first term in 2007 to serve northeast Lansing’s First Ward. He is seeking re-election this year.


Committee Chairwoman and Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar set three meetings at 3 p.m. this month to address gaps in the looming $15 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2012. Normally, Ways and Means meets the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 4 p.m. After that, Dunbar said, meeting times would resume to the normal schedule. Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton also sits on the committee.


Robinson initially named Hewitt as chairman. However, Hewitt said he didn’t have the necessary skill set to chair the committee and recommended At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood stay at the post. Wood chaired the committee in 2010, which included Hewitt and Houghton.


“His decline of that (committee chair) is baffling to me,” Robinson said, adding that she believed Hewitt able to “master the information and was a quick-study of the subject area. My estimation is that he was certainly more than capable (to chair).”


Ways and Means reviews proposed changes to the annual budget, assesses the short- and long-term condition of the city’s finances and makes budget recommendations to the administration. The committee is considering a 4-mill property tax increase for police, fire and road services to be voted on by the public in May.


In 2010, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko missed 27 Public Safety Committee meetings in seven months. That committee met almost weekly and was chaired by Wood. Yorko cited conflicts with her work schedule but never resigned. Hewitt sat on that oft-convened committee, but he said the nearly weekly schedule was set ahead of time.


“I’m not going to be Jessica Yorko and not show up,” Hewitt said.

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