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Monday, March 18,2013

Update: Kids in the Hall

The Council’s image takes another hit as it postpones electing leaders until Monday. Robinson: ‘To continue to go around this mulberry bush is not effective.’

by Andy Balaskovitz
Thursday, Jan. 5 — 5:10 p.m. If the Lansing City Council — with a newly elected member on board — hoped to start 2012 with an image of cooperation and compromise, it failed to do so today.

After a 55-minute recess from Committee of the Whole to hold private discussions with each other, the Council went through three more 4-4 votes on nominating either Brian Jeffries, Kathie Dunbar or A’Lynne Robinson as Council president.

For details on what happened during the first part of the meeting, see this story.

The Council voted 10 separate times today on nominating a president (it never got to nominating a vice president). The voting fell along the same lines on each roll call vote.

At-Large Council members Carol Wood, Derrick Quinney and Jeffries and 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington voted four times to support Jeffries; four times against 3rd Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson; and three times against At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar for president.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton, Robinson and Dunbar voted four times against Jeffries; four times for Robinson; and three times for Dunbar.

After the last round of votes, Robinson took a “point of personal privilege” to vent about Council’s actions today.

“It’s gravely unfortunate we are at this point,” she said to her colleagues. “Unfortunately this is what we are demonized on a regular basis for. Absolutely deplorable.”

As Robinson was trying to “implore” the members to reach a compromise, Quinney agreed that was the right thing to do.

“The tag put on this body … will be nothing but a black eye to walk out of here without a decision today. I’m sick and tired of what has taken place up to this point. We all need to set pride, egos — whatever — aside and do what we were elected to do,” he said. He added: “I say we stay here until it’s resolved, if it takes all night. I’m not leaving until that happens.”

But Dunbar said the private conversations she had with members during the break “didn’t demonstrate compromise yet.” She was the first to suggest Council hold the vote until Monday for further discussion. “I understand the level of dysfunction this Council is under. I also don’t think that it’s dysfunctional to admit more discussion needs to be had before a decision is made.”

Dunbar wanted to table the issue until Monday; Quinney wanted to recess again and figure out today. Robinson, chairing the meeting, ultimately sided with Dunbar. After Quinney told the Council to “put the past behind us,” Robinson responded: “Put the past behind us starting when? Today is indicative of the past. To continue to go around this mulberry bush is not effective.”

Washington, the newest Council member, said her repeated votes for Jeffries and against Dunbar and Robinson “has nothing to do with history or personalities with any one person.” She declined to explain further after the meeting, but said she was “disheartened” about what happened.

Dunbar said the “elephant in the room” was assigning members to committees. “That’s left at the sole discretion of the president.” After the meeting, Dunbar said “the first step in healing dysfunction is recognizing it exists.”

Yet, she was not upset about today’s turnout. “I’m not at all disappointed with how this turned out. It gives us more time to think about it.”

When asked after the meeting what he envisioned in the new leadership, Jeffries said: “Derrick and I have been working together, it just didn’t come up today.”

Based on advice from the City Attorney’s Office, the Council was able to table the issue until Monday — the next Council meeting — but it could not conduct any business during the scheduled meeting after Committee of the Whole. Based on Charter rules, City Clerk Chris Swope was able to call the meeting to order and promptly adjourn it, which is what happened.

While the committee stalemate may have exacerbated the Council’s uncooperative, dysfunctional image, procedurally it doesn’t really mean anything. The only business on the Council’s agenda today (besides formally electing the president and vice president), was a tribute and approving carry-forwards from fiscal year 2011. Those will likely be moved to Monday’s agenda.
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