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Wednesday, February 29,2012

It's personal

Facts are subjective in the political saga between Virg Bernero and Kelly Rossman-McKinney

by Andy Balaskovitz

Last week’s political theater staged by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero was the latest act in a professional relationship with PR executive Kelly Rossman-McKinney that shows things are getting personal.

Bernero’s biting, 323-word press release calling for Rossman-McKinney to step down from the Lansing Economic Development Corp. board accused her of sour grapes for not getting a contract on the casino; her “aggressive opposition” to the Kewadin Lansing Casino plan; and a conflict of interest.

Rossman-McKinney has denied the first two claims and came to realize she may have had a conflict of interest by representing the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians on the Greektown Casino until she left the firm of Rossman, Martin & Associates in 2004. Rossman-McKinney said she would have voted yes last week when the EDC board unanimously approved selling a small parcel worth $280,000 at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Cedar Street. Rossman-McKinney stepped down at the behest of Bernero, who had appointed her.

While the administration sticks to its claims that Rossman-McKinney’s recusal came too late — indeed, Rossman-McKinney told City Pulse on Jan. 30 that she didn’t have a conflict of interest with the Kewadin Lansing proposal — it’s not the first time Bernero showed public disdain for Rossman-McKinney’s actions.

“This news release was a perfect example of the kind of thing you write in the heat of the moment and should put in a desk drawer and review again the following day. It was done in haste and it was bereft of a lot of facts. It called into question my integrity, which I take great offense at,” Rossman-McKinney said in a telephone interview Monday.

Based on follow-up questions Monday night, it appears that administration would rather forget about the latest incident.

“The statement speaks for itself,” said Bernero’s new chief of staff, Randy Hannan. When asked why the press release included claims that could not be substantiated, Hannan said: “She’s entitled to her opinion. Factual information can be subject to interpretation.”

In 2007, following the murder of Ruth Hallman — the mother of Bernero’s political enemy, Carol Wood — Rossman-McKinney delivered the eulogy at Hallman’s funeral. “As you may know, my firm paid dearly for that” because it had been the lead on “community relations and strategic communications surrounding the combined sewer overflow project,” Rossman-McKinney said.

Rossman-McKinney served on the EDC board for four or five years, she said, and had to recuse herself on votes relating to Pat Gillespie and Sam Eyde projects. So why did Bernero ask her to step down in this case? Hannan said it was the timing.

When asked how she sees her professional relationship with Bernero moving forward, Rossman-McKinney paused for a moment, looking for the right words. “Do you think less of him as a politician?” I asked.

A quick response: “Yes.”



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