(This story was updated to include additional information at 12:57 p.m.)
MONDAY Jan. 10 — The Lansing City Council is searching for a person who lives on the city’s east side to replace First Ward Councilman Brandon Betz, who resigned from the job last week to refocus on his “personal relationships and health” following a controversial year at the dais.
As a formality, the Council voted unanimously tonight to accept Betz’ resignation. The Council also outlined a procedure to appoint his replacement through the rest of this year, which would have been the third year in Betz' four-year term. The fourth year will be filled at a special election in November.
The plan decided by the Council includes collecting applications from interested First Warders through 5 p.m. Jan. 21. From there, the Committee of the Whole will schedule a series of 10-minute interviews with qualified candidates beginning at 6 p.m. Jan. 31.
After those interviews, each Council member will use paper ballots to wittle the applicant pool down to their top three picks. Those finalists will then advance to a final round of 30-minute interviews at 5 p.m. the next day. Then, the Council will vote that night on who will go on to serve as First Ward Council member — but only through Dec. 31, 2022.
A special election on Nov. 2 will then dictate who will fill the one year that will still remain of Betz’ four-year term, which expires on Dec. 31, 2023. Whoever is appointed to serve on the Council in February would also be eligible to file for the special, partial-term election in November — as well as for re-election to a fresh, four-year term in November 2023.
Applications can only come from registered voters of the city’s First Ward, which touches Clinton County past Gier Park to the north, borders East Lansing to the east, is mostly bordered to the west by Cedar Street and runs as far south as the Potter Park Zoo and E. Mount Hope Avenue.
Since there are only seven members of the Council, four votes can decide the appointment without a deadlock. City Clerk Chris Swope also said that a primary election may be scheduled in August, depending on the number of candidates who file to fill the remainder of his term.
Council President Adam Hussain said he hasn’t heard from many interested applicants, though he expects “quite a few” people to eventually throw their hats in the ring.
Former First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washingon, who Betz unseated in 2019, said she doesn’t plan to apply for the Council vacancy or seek reelection to the post later this year.
After the meeting tonight, Eastside Neighborhood Organization Secretary Ryan Kost told City Pulse that he intends to apply for the appointment.
“After spending the entire year walking every street in the First Ward and talking to hundreds of residents, listening to their wants and needs, I feel compelled to run to be their voice,” Kost said.
Betz had three other opponents in the 2019 primary election: Scott Hughes, community outreach coordinator at the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office; James Pyle, a real estate agent who lives in the Groesbeck Neighborhood; and former mayoral candidate Farhan Sheikh-Omar. Pyle and Hughes said they don't plan to apply for the job.
Sheikh-Omar said he plants to submit an application this week.
"The First Ward needs a leader who will listen to all sides of issues and be able to communicate with supporters, opponents and colleagues," he said in a statement. "I have always been a leader that listens to the needs of our community and stands with the people to find solutions."
Sheikh-Omar added: "I believe our best days are still ahead of us, and I'm invested in that future. Let's work side-by-side to bring back a local government that is truly of, by and for the people."
Defeated Council candidates Claretta Duckett-Freeman and Rachel Willis, who lost at the polls in November to At-Large Councilman Jeffrey Brown, didn’t live in the First Ward when they filed to run last year and would not be eligible to fill the vacancy unless they moved to the First Ward.
Similarly, former Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who gave up her seat to run for mayor last year, also does not live in the First Ward.
Betz hasn’t returned calls or emails to City Pulse, though Hussain said that he personally confirmed with Betz over the weekend that his abrupt resignation was, in fact, a legitimate one. Betz has also since filed a signed copy of his resignation letter to ensure it would be considered valid — a formality required under the city charter, according to City Attorney Jim Smiertka.
In the letter, Betz said that his decision to resign followed a period of reflection on the past year — a tumultuous one that included Betz being fired from his job, censured and stripped of his committee assignments and repeatedly urged to resign over a fiery exchange with local activist Michael Lynn Jr. A cadre of Eastsiders led by a local attorney have also sought to recall him.
“This last year has brought growth and realization in both my personal life and career,” Betz wrote in his resignation letter. “I have had a major change of heart toward many causes I supported during my campaign. I decided last year to continue my commitment to my ward. I have come to the realization that I need to focus on my personal relationships and health.”
A fundraising committee that was created last year to help fuel those recall efforts was formally dissolved this afternoon without having raised any cash, according to county records. Betz’ latest campaign finance reports showed that his campaign has a remaining balance of $34.
The last time that a member of the Lansing City Council resigned was in 2015 when then-Councilman Derrick Quinney quit the job to become the Ingham County register of deeds, a post that he still holds today. Quinney was replaced by former Councilman Vincent Delgado through an appointment process that is similar to the one for Betz outlined tonight.
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