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Wednesday, October 26,2011

First Ward fight

The candidates are sparring over whether Lynne Martinez received favoritism from the Ingham County Land Bank, as opponent Jody Washington charges

by Nyssa Rabinowitz

Accusatory campaign literature has
ignited an argument between First Ward City Council candidates about
whether one candidate is benefiting from favoritism by the Ingham
County Land Bank.


Last week, First Ward residents received
a mailing from the Jody Washington for City Council campaign comparing
Washington and her opponent, Lynne Martinez, on community service,
public safety and medical marijuana. Voters will decide between the
candidates on Nov. 8 in a race observers say is close.


In the mailing, Washington accused
Martinez of receiving “tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars for
‘consulting’ services from the Ingham County Land Bank, which is run by
one of her biggest political backers.”


During “City Pulse on the Air,” Martinez
confirmed that her firm, Martinez Consulting Group, consulted on
projects for the Land Bank including its new bike share program, but
she denied being paid the “tens of thousands” Washington referred to.


“I have been paid for two contracts to
date, about a year’s worth of work, much less than $10,000,” Martinez
said during the show.


The Land Bank has two contracts with
Martinez’s firm, Land Bank coordinator Joseph Bonsall said. One
contract was for the bike share program and the other for the Land
Bank’s foreclosed homes sale program, later renamed the PROP program.
Both of those contracts have been extended, he said.


But even with the extensions, the total amount of her payment will not exceed $5,500, Bonsall said.


Martinez was asked to bring community
leaders, Realtors, lenders, Housing Coalition staff and Land Bank staff
together to determine criteria for the PROP program, Land Bank Chairman
Eric Schertzing said. She facilitated similar meetings for the bike
share program, which is still in its planning stages, he added.


 “You
hire and you work with folks that you know you can trust to listen and
do the job,” Schertzing said. “Lynne did a bang-up job on both
contracts. She helped move us forward.”


Washington cited an article in Michigan
State University’s student newspaper, The State News, that said a
“$20,000 match grant from the Ingham County Land Bank has been secured
to fund the (bike share program),” but Schertzing, Martinez and Bonsall
said the grant will be used to pay for the program, not Martinez’s
salary.


“The money hasn’t been spent because the other matching dollars hasn’t been committed by matching entities,” Schertzing said,


Bonsall said in an e-mail that the bike
share program must hire a program manager and raise a minimum of
$100,000 in additional capital before the grant money will be released.
“To date, these contingencies have not been satisfied,” he wrote.


Washington acknowledged in an e-mail
Monday that she had made an error since “the exact amount of public
dollars that Martinez has received has not been published.” However,
she said that “whether it’s thousands of dollars or tens of thousand of
dollars, the overall point remains the same: At a time when people
across Lansing are struggling to find work, a privileged few are
receiving jobs and contracts as political favors. That sends the wrong
message to citizens who have already been given plenty of other reasons
to lose faith in their elected leaders.”


Schertzing said his friendship with Martinez had no influence on his decision to hire her firm for the projects.


“Like many other people in the
community, I know Lynne and I trust her to make good decisions,” he
said. “She has experience in housing programs, she’s invested and
involved in the community. The bike share was a facilitation thing that
I knew she would be good at and she was.”


In addition to the financial
allegations, Washington also stated during the radio show that
Martinez’s contracts “didn’t go through the Land Bank board like it was
supposed to.”


“We need more transparency in government
and fewer shadowy consulting contracts between friends,” she said in an
interview following the show.


However, Schertzing said Martinez’s contracts were too small to warrant board approval.


According to the Land Bank’s existing
policy, “any purchase of goods or services less than $5,000 require the
approval of the Chairman/Executive Director,” not the board. The policy
also states that any professional service under $25,000 is exempt from
the competitive bidding process, which also does not require board
approval.


Schertzing also said that the board
reviews a list of all the checks that were cut during the previous
month and was fully aware that Martinez’s company was consulting on the
projects.


In addition, the Land Bank’s doors are
open five days a week and fully staffed and Schertzing’s cell phone
number is posted on the organization’s website so anyone can call with
questions day, night or even on holidays, he said.


“So much good work was put into (these
programs),” Schertzing said. “To try to find something wrong with it, I
think it speaks more to the person saying that than it does to the
target.”



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