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MONDAY, June 3 — The Lansing City Council couldn’t muster enough votes tonight to override a budgetary veto from Mayor Andy Schor, ultimately pushing a $60,000 funding increase back into a neighborhood coordinator position.
The Council voted 5-2 last month to reroute that money into a new, executive-level position to oversee government finances but was met with a veto from Schor the following day, a first since he took office. Tonight’s vote to override that mayoral veto — which required six votes — failed by a 4-3 vote after a lengthy discussion.
Council President Carol Wood along with Council members Jeremy Garza, Jody Washington and Adam Hussain sought to redirect a $60,000 funding increase away from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods and Citizen Engagement and into a new, executive-level “chief strategy officer” to help better oversee city finances.
Council Vice President Peter Spadafore and Councilmembers Brian Jackson and Kathie Dunbar, while still supportive of the yet-to-be filled position, had sought to cap that investment at $134,000 rather than Council’s initial allocation of about $197,000. They wanted to use the remaining cash to hire a neighborhood coordinator, as outlined in Schor's latest budget recommendations.
Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley was absent from tonight’s meeting. And without support from at least two more Council members, the motion to override the veto failed — an outcome largely expected by the Council.
The Council through a series of budget amendments pulled funding from several departments and initiatives to fund the chief strategy officer position. Schor’s veto only sought to protect a portion of those cuts. The city had been doing “tremendous work” through its neighborhoods department. Schor insisted that it needed more staff.
After all, Schor’s first executive order created a neighborhoods department. His first veto was issued to protect it.
But with ballooning unfunded liabilities, any funding headed toward “non-essential” departments like that should be frozen altogether, some Council members contended. Wood, Washington, Garza and Hussain recognized the importance of neighborhoods but had argued the chief strategy officer was more important.
The concept of the yet-to-be created position was floated by the city’s Financial Health Team, an 18-member citizens’ group started by Mayor Virg Bernero in 2012. The new hire — which will become one of the highest paid city employees — will be tasked with reducing the amount of revenues dedicated to unfunded liabilities.
The cost of unfunded pension and employment benefits represented about 13.5%, or $25 million, of the city’s $184 million revenue in 2006. In the latest budget, that figure soared to about 22% of about $49.5 milion of the city’s $226.4 million in annual revenue. The state can appoint an emergency manager if the problem worsens.
And Spitzley, although she wasn’t around to cast a vote, wouldn’t have changed the outcome regardless.
“I won’t be voting to override it,” Spitzley said previously. “This whole thing was about compromise, and I can compromise. If I could, I wouldn’t approve any new initiatives — aside from police and fire — until after this chief strategy officer has an opportunity to review our processes, but this veto is not a hill that I want to die on.”
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage at Lansing City Hall.