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Thursday, January 19,2012

Who will lead Lansing Township?

Daher’s departure as supervisor after 28 years leaves open a full-time question in a disjointed township of five islands spread around Ingham County

by Kyle Melinn
(This story has been updated to correct a reference to which GM plants were demolished in Lansing Township.)

For the first time in 28 years, John Daher’s name will not appear on Lansing Township ballots for supervisor, forcing the township’s 8,200 residents to reassess their government’s structure.

Daher, a Republican, has told the township board he would not seek re-election. He assumed the post after former supervisor Denise Arnold was recalled in 1983. He’s one of the area’s longest-serving heads of a local government. 

His departure not only opens the door for a new successor, but begs the question of whether the township’s new supervisor will serve as a full-time employee.

Daher will earn a $65,000-a-year salary in 2012 as the government head of the township. There is no “superintendent,” the equivalent of a professional manager. The position was done away with in the ‘80s. 

Instead, everything runs through Daher, which is more a leadership decision made by those in power as opposed to anything written in the township’s ordinances or charter. Daher said he would hope whoever fills his shoes would keep it that way.

“Certainly, someone could run as a part-time supervisor,” Daher said. “But I believe it would be a mistake. This job demands a full-time supervisor.”

First off, he argues a part-time supervisor inevitably would need to hire a full-time manager to run the township’s day-to-day operations. An experienced/competent professional would demand a salary higher than what the current supervisor receives … and that’s if the part-time supervisor doesn’t draw a salary.

An appointed person wouldn’t be held directly accountable to the people, something Daher prides himself on being. He also wears several hats within the township. He oversees the budget. He’s the personnel chairman. He attends as many township meetings as humanly possible — parks, public works, etc. 

This juggling act saves the township money, which is an obvious concern to Daher.

However, it could be argued that a full-time manager would have a broader vision of ways to save dollars and cents within this geographically separated township — possibly by expanding shared services or consolidation arrangements with its neighbors.

The township’s west side consists of just about everything between Waverly Road and the old GM plant and the two rivers on the north and south. 

Then there is the Eastwood Towne Center, the detached Groesbeck neighborhood to the north of Saginaw and an island of commercial property to the west of Highway 127 and north of Interstate 496.

Does this disjointed collection of five islands need its own Lansing Township services, particularly since every piece touches Lansing and/or East Lansing? Does a full-time supervisor keep in place an entrenched system of government, where elected officials are more interested in preserving a fiefdom than making sensible decisions on police, fire, administration, etc.?

The full-time issue could chase away one of the township’s more established public officials. Ingham County Commissioner Victor Celentino admits that he’s “always been’ interested in the supervisor position.

As a township board member between 1992 and 2000, Celentino said he admires the work Daher has done in bringing unity to the geographically separated township.

But as a special education teacher at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Magnet Academy — the former Dwight Rich Middle School — being a full-time supervisor would mean taking a leave of absence, which is something that “is giving me some pause.”

Celentino is running for another term representing the redrawn 1st county commission district and already has a fundraiser planned for next month. Like most elected officials, though, Celentino isn’t ruling anything out until the mid-May filing deadline, particularly if there’s interest in a part-time arrangement.

“Im always considering how I can best represent the people of my community,” Celentino said.

The only candidate to file, to date, is Lansing Township Trustee John Mitchell, a local product who spent several years in federal government contracting in the Philadelphia area before moving back to the area 18 years ago.

A Democrat living in the Groesbeck community, Mitchell made his mark in township government when, as a planning commissioner, he helped lead the charge in demanding that General Motors attach a $5 million cash bond to the demolition of GM Plants #2 and #3 to protect the township from costly cleanup costs and an unsightly mess if GM went bankrupt.

Now a first-term member on the township board, Mitchell agrees that Lansing Township needs a full-time supervisor. He’s willing to sacrifice the 40-plus hours a week from his financial consulting firm to do it.

With township’s “bare minimum” staffing levels, a Supervisor Mitchell sees himself getting involved in the “grunt labor,” if necessary, to make sure the taxpayers are getting the most efficient government possible.

Mitchell said he believes talk of a part-time supervisor is being fanned by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, whose beliefs in consolidations are well documented. Bernero declined to comment for this story.

“I love Lansing Township,” Mitchell said. “I think you need to have a passion for the township to be supervisor, and I do. I’ve had a lot of encouragement from members of community to serve so when John Daher decided not to run, it was a no brainer for me.”

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com)

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