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Monday, March 18,2013

Council Night

The City Clerk urges the Council — again — to have fewer meetings in a year. Will the proposal make the February presidential primary ballot?

by Andy Balaskovitz
Friday, Nov. 11 — Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope is at it again. After a failed attempt this summer to convince the City Council it meets too often and to reduce the number of its meetings, he’s asking Council members to reconsider.



Swope sent a letter to Council members Thursday recommending a City Charter revision that would require the body to meet at least 26 times a year instead of 50, as is required now. Because a charter revision requires voter approval, a resolution is attached to the letter that includes potential ballot language. The question could appear on the Feb. 28 presidential primary ballot.



Swope argues that Lansing is unique in meeting 50 times a year. He also says fewer meetings would save money.



“I have been able to find no other city in the State of Michigan that meets 50 times per year; most 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. Additionally, our Charter provides for special meetings in cases where the need arises,” Swope writes.



“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.”



Swope is encouraging the Council to place the question on the Feb. 28 presidential primary election ballot. The Council discussed the idea in August in time for Tuesday’s election, but the proposed resolution was unanimously denied in a Council committee before it even reached the floor.



Swope sent a similar letter and resolution in May. The resolution was taken up by the Council’s General Services Committee Aug. 1, but was voted down unanimously by Council members Eric Hewitt, Derrick Quinney and Carol Wood. Wood and Hewitt outright opposed the idea, while Quinney — who chairs General Services — voted with them because there was “no need to have a discussion at that point,” he said at the time. In other words, since Hewitt and Wood weren’t budging and because the resolution needed at least two yes votes to make it out of committee, what’s the point?



Hewitt’s replacement, 1st Ward Councilwoman-elect Jody Washington, said in August she opposed the idea of fewer meetings a year. “It seems whenever an issue comes up, we’re told there’s not enough information. I don’t think reducing the number of meetings would help them have more information. It appears they don’t have enough time together,” Washington said in August.



The deadline to have ballot language approved for Tuesday’s General Election ballot was a little more than two months. If that’s the case again, Swope’s new attempt would have to be approved before Washington takes office Jan. 1.



“Fifty meetings is excessive and unnecessary when you think about the costs of staff time and the distribution and production of minutes and agendas,” Swope told City Pulse in August.



Swope’s letter is part of Monday’s City Council agenda. At the meeting, Council President A’Lynne Robinson will refer it to a committee. It failed to make it out of General Services last time, so will Robinson — who was open to the idea in August — send it to a different committee for discussion? Perhaps Committee of the Whole?



Other than what appears to be the start of another discussion over the number of yearly Council meetings, Monday’s business is light: Two public hearings to consider special land use permits for prospective churches in the city are the only items on the agenda.



The Committee of the Whole is scheduled to meet immediately after Council, and the committee is set to discuss the Lansing Board of Water & Light’s annual audit and the Design Lansing Master Plan draft.

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