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Monday, March 18,2013

Does Council meet too often?

A proposal to amend the City Charter to require fewer City Council meetings in a year dies in committee, blocked by Wood and Hewitt with Quinney’s support

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, Aug. 8 — Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope’s cost-saving plan to cut the number of yearly City Council meetings in half — putting it in line with most other Michigan cities — failed to make it out of a Council committee last week.

The General Services Committee was considering a ballot proposal that would have asked Lansing voters to amend the City Charter so the Council would meet twice a month rather than at least 50 times a year, as is required by the Charter.

At-Large City Councilman Derrick Quinney, who chairs General Services, voted with Council members Carol Wood and Eric Hewitt against recommending the proposal to the full Council for approval. Quinney said Hewitt and Wood expressed “opposition” to the idea “from the very beginning.” He saw “no need to have a discussion at that point” even though he is open to the idea of fewer Council meetings.

“There was no point in me going out there and wanting to do anything else with it,” he said. “Maybe at some point in time we’ll review it later. I support the system we have in place now, but I think we ought to look at doing that (reducing the number of meetings).”

The proposal would have required voter approval at the November election because it sought to amend the City Charter. Under the Charter, Council is required to meet at least 50 times a year.

Swope, in a May 12 letter to City Council members, advocated the amendment because it would be consistent with other major Michigan cities and would “significantly” save the city money.

“Other major cities in Michigan (with the exception of Detroit) require meetings only twice a month. Each of those cities is able to perform its required responsibilities in the time allotted in their city charters,” he wrote. “The City of Lansing would significantly save money from its budget in security, utility, and payroll expenses if our City Charter was more in line with cites (sic) that meet twice monthly. In these tough economic times, it is fiscally responsible to seek as many ways as possible to save the taxpayers money.”

The Ann Arbor, Jackson and Warren city councils and the Grand Rapids City Commission meet twice a month, according to 2011 meeting schedules. The Kalamazoo City Commission meets on the first, third and fifth Mondays of the month.

Wood told City Pulse last month she was against the proposal because Council barely has enough to time accomplishing its business with weekly meetings, she said.

“If we’re having public hearings and a vote (on that ordinance) the same night, it demonstrates we need all those meetings,” she said.

At-Large Council candidate Rory Neuner is campaigning on a “reform plan” for City Council that proposes, in part, “reducing the number of Council meetings per year to save money and allow members time to engage with the community and craft appropriate public policy prior to meetings being held. Lansing’s City Council currently meets 50 times per year, far more than any other Michigan city of its size.”

Quinney said fewer meetings would mean more time to attend neighborhood meetings and to “deal with constituency stuff.”

“For those of us that have other employment, those off-weeks or off-nights could be used in so many other ways to gather in the community and actually have a dialog with folks,” Quinney said.

Quinney said “I don’t know” when asked if the resolution could be revisited and adopted by Council before the Aug. 30 deadline to approve Nov. 8 ballot proposals. “To say it’s completely dead, I don’t want to say that.”
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