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Wednesday, November 13,2013

The year ahead

Picking a president and the strong representation of women on Council

by Andy Balaskovitz
At the outset of 2014, the eight-member Lansing City Council will huddle together — in open doors and behind closed ones — to negotiate electing a new president for the year.

For the first time in a decade, those negotiations won’t include At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries who, in recent years, was center in the contentious fight to select a leader. At the start of this year, Jeffries was accused of having broken a promise with Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar. In exchange for her vote in 2012, Jeffries had agreed to support Dunbar in 2013, which didn’t happen. After his year as president, Jeffries said Dunbar didn’t exhibit the qualities necessary to lead the Council. He voted with Council members Carol Wood, Jody Washington, Derrick Quinney and A’Lynne Boles to install Wood as president.

The Council president assigns Council members to committees, which can be important in terms of the speed in which various proposals, ordinances and projects work their way through Council. It also comes with a pay increase: The Council president makes $22,200 a year, while members make $20,200.

With Jeffries out and Judi Brown Clarke in, how does that shape up the picture for next year? Who will be the Council member to land the critical fifth vote for the nomination?

Boles said those conversations, which usually begin in August, started since last week’s election.

Dunbar, who served as vice president in 2010 and 2011, has been supported the past two years for president by Council members Tina Houghton and Jessica Yorko. While the three are seen as Mayor Virg Bernero’s key support on the Council, it’s unclear whether Brown Clarke would cast a vote for Dunbar. And even if she does, Dunbar would still need the vote of Boles or Quinney to take the presidency. Wood and Washington were outspoken last year against Dunbar leading the Council.

In 2010 and 2011, Boles served consecutive years as the president and this year she is vice president. She said last week that she “always has an interest” in serving as president. Quinney also served as Council president in 2009. He could not be reached for comment. Wood may also seek another term as president, but in order to do so, she’d likely need Brown Clarke’s vote.

Washington declined to say publicly who she thinks could lead the Council. “I certainly have my opinion on who I think exhibits leadership skills and who doesn’t,” she said.

However, she predicts it won’t be easy. “I think you’re going to see a little bit of a battle,” she said.

‘Unheard of’

Boles said Brown Clarke’s election last week is going to bring a “different dynamic” to the Council. Washington said she looks forward to “working with her” and plans to meet with Brown Clarke personally before she’s sworn into the job.

But Brown Clarke’s election was also unprecedented in that seven of the eight Council members are women, an anomaly compared to the percentage of women in politics in the Legislature and Congress.

“You know what, we’ve come a long way,” Washington said. “It says a lot about the city of Lansing. Kudos to the voters.”

Boles also pointed out that Brown Clarke is the third African American on the Council.

“This is the first time in history that we’ve had seven women seated and one man,” she said. “That’s unheard of. A lot of history is being made.”

Among them, though, Boles notes that each Council member brings her own personality and set of experiences. And in terms of diversity, the landscape is improving, though Boles sees room for representation from the Latino and Asian communities.

“We’re still not there, but we’re getting to a level of diversity that would be a good representation of the city of Lansing,” Boles said.

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