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Monday, August 12,2013

Kids in the Hall

$1.1M federal grant tabled because the administration didn’t come to a neighborhood meeting, which Bernero called ‘petty.’ In St. Petersburg resolution, Council asks for annual human rights report, which Bernero called ‘idiotic.'

by Andy Balaskovitz

This story was corrected on Aug. 14 to say that Chad Gamble is Lansing's chief operating officer.

Monday, Aug. 12 — Lansing City Councilwoman A’Lynne Boles-Robinson pulled a resolution to accept a $1.1 million federal grant from tonight’s meeting agenda because a representative from the Bernero Administration didn’t attend her monthly constituent meeting Saturday.

The Council was scheduled to vote on accepting the money, up to $1,122,905, from the federal government that would pay for most of a 3.5-mile non-motorized pathway south of Jolly Road between Waverly Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.

The city would have been required to pay up to $249,001 in matching costs for the South Lansing Pathway Project, according to the resolution. The project also calls for reducing Pleasant Grove Road from four lanes to three, adding bike lanes between Jolly and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The city has received “conditional commitment” from the federal government for the funds. It awaits local approval from the Council. The acceptance resolution mentions the administration’s and Council’s commitment to alternative forms of transportation in the city.

However, because an administration representative didn’t come to Boles-Robinson’s monthly “Second Saturday” meeting with constituents — and hear questions from residents — Boles-Robinson sent the resolution back to committee to have those questions answered.

The move didn’t sit well with Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, who unsuccessfully tried to bring the resolution back before the Council. It also didn’t sit well with Mayor Virg Bernero, who after the meeting said the delay could “jeopardize” the amount the city ultimately receives.

Chief Operating Officer Chad Gamble said during the meeting that the hard deadline for accepting the grant is Oct. 1, but that money for such transportation improvement projects could be doled out to other municipalities that approve grants before Lansing.

“Now apparently on Saturdays we have a pseudo-Council that meets. Now it’s my job as head of the administration to follow each Council member around?” Bernero said in an interview. “It’s unbelievable. I ain’t showing up to her Saturday meeting. I’m not paying somebody double time and I’m not requiring it of my administration to spend Saturday with A’Lynne Robinson.”

Bernero suggested that Boles-Robinson should be well-versed enough with details of the project to be able to answer those questions, particularly after it’s gone through the committee process. “I’ll give her the information, whatever information she wants. It’s her job to be informed, right?”

“This is nothing but gamesmanship,” he said. “Petty, narcissistic bullshit.”

During the meeting, Boles-Robinson was frustrated that a member of the Public Service Department didn’t come to the meeting as was planned. (Gamble said the representative was out of town.) She was unwilling to move the project forward if residents had questions about it.

“I am unwilling to be irresponsible in pursuing anything going forward if there are unanswered questions,” she said during the meeting. “I made that clear when the department representative was invited. Giving it some time to get questions answered I think does a great service to the neighborhood whose houses are behind this project.

Boles-Robinson did not say specifically what those questions were. She said during the meeting, “Those questions are sitting on my desk and are prepared to be typed up.”

“I am amazed, incensed and absolutely appalled,” Boles-Robinson said of being questioned by Yorko about pulling the agenda item. “I find it very, very, very questionable on the side of the administration that this is an urgent matter before you and yet you are willing to not come and address this community’s questions. … It sounds like the administration is not getting its way and something is being held off although you were willing to not come, not answer questions of residents … that this directly affects.

“If that interrupts your timeline you never indicated to the committee, so be it.”

Councilwoman Jody Washington, who attended the Saturday meeting, said one of the concerns was that the city would be on the hook for $600,000 a year in maintenance costs for the project. “My stomach sank” when she heard that, Washington said.

But Gamble said that figure’s not accurate. “I have no idea what that is. $600,000 is equal to about two-thirds of the cost to mow all of the city’s parks. In no way are the costs to maintain it that amount. It’s certainly less than that.”

Boles-Robinson said she intends to have the Council Ways and Means Committee take up the item on Friday afternoon.

In other business, the Council approved a resolution urging the Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission “to sever all remaining ties, including references on its website and signage, with St. Petersburg” because of human rights violations against the LGBT community there.

The debate over whether to end Lansing’s supposed sister cities relationship with St. Petersburg has gone on for a month. Washington first brought the issue before the Council in July, calling for an end to the sister cities relationship. She has gone back and forth on a compromise with the administration, which has not wanted to end the relationship, but instead work with Lansing’s Russian counterparts diplomatically.

Earlier this year, Washington and four others on Council sought to eliminate $20,000 from the budget for the Sister Cities program, suggesting that the money could come from somewhere other than the General Fund. Bernero vetoed that.

Last week, the administration told the Council that the relationship was defunct and not recognized by the International Sister Cities organization. While the city’s official relationship with St. Petersburg is still unclear to Washington because she said she’s gotten conflicting reports from the administration: “Whatever is out there I would like it ended.”

The resolution also requests the city’s Human Relations and Community Service Department “and/or Advisory Board prepare an annual report summarizing current human rights issues and challenges in each of Lansing’s sister cities and submit the report to the Lansing City Council by the beginning of each calendar year.”

The resolution passed 7-0. Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar was absent. Again, Bernero was not happy with the Council’s move, particularly requiring an annual report.

“While I agree and abhor what’s going on in St. Petersburg, the notion of requiring a human rights report is idiotic,” Bernero said. “We don’t have time for that. We have the United Nations and Amnesty International and countless organizations that do this.”

City Pulse reported earlier this month on human rights issues going on in the rest of Lansing’s sister cities. Bernero’s unsure whether the Council’s request for a report will need a formal veto or if he can “ignore” it. He said there isn’t much to do with regard to ending the sister cities relationship because he said there isn’t one.

“I’m studying whether it warrants a veto or if it simply should be ignored,” he said of the report. “It’s certainly idiotic.”

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