FRIDAY, Sept. 15 — East Lansing’s eight at-large candidates for three seats on the City Council are split on a trio of ballot measures set to appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Appearing at a League of Women Voters forum last night, they weighed in on whether to expand the Council to seven members, initiate ranked-choice voting in city elections and establish special elections for vacancies.
Joshua Ramirez-Roberts expressed concern that an expanded Council could make it more difficult for the body to come to a consensus while also adding additional salaries to the city’s payroll.
Others, like Daniel E. Bollman, had mixed views. “I just don’t understand why we’re rushing this,” he said. “I think what we should do is take a break, establish a charter review commission and have them give us some advice once they determine what is ultimately best for this city.”
Incumbent Noel Garcia Jr. said he supports Council expansion but was opposed to ranked-choice voting and special elections. Kerry Ebersole Singh said she also favored expansion, noting how other Michigan cities of comparable size to East Lansing typically have seven-member councils.
Christopher A. Wardell backed it, adding that a number of smaller municipalities in Greater Lansing, like Mason and Williamston, already support seven-member councils with fewer resources. “Why not us? The more voices the better. I understand that there’s a concern with absences, but we’re already experiencing absences, and we need quorum.”
Wardell said that he was indifferent about ranked-choice voting.
Rebecca Kasen also supported council expansion. “It will give the opportunity for somebody to not have to commit to 20 to 30 hours a week and instead be able to do Council and one or two commissions. We could bring in more diversity,” she said.
Erik Altmann and Mark Meadows, both former Council members, said they would vote against all three measures.
Meadows said, “When I was first elected, I advocated to go to seven. After a couple of years of working with five people, I realized this was the most efficient way for us to make decisions.”
Candidates offered ideas on how to bolster the city’s efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainability. Altmann cited stormwater management as one area that would fall under the council’s purview and said the city could also look at installing solar panels on municipal buildings and acquiring electric garbage trucks. “Right now, we just don’t have the staff to do that,” he said.
Discussions on sustainability often overlapped with aspects of the affordable housing crisis. Ramirez-Roberts said it was “simply too expensive to live here,” and that the city should help facilitate more opportunities for home ownership in order to retain local talent and city employees. He said the city needs to increase walkability and increase public transportation.
Kasen and others expressed concerns about East Lansing’s affordability for young professionals and families. “If you want to live in East Lansing, you must make $85,000 a year. That’s if you don’t have children,” Kasen said.
Another common theme was the city’s recent struggle to hire and retain city employees, including police officers and first responders.
“We’ve lost probably about a century’s worth of institutional knowledge within the last year,” Bollman said. Altmann agreed, adding that the city’s staffing exodus has also placed a blemish on the city’s credibility as an employer while placing higher workloads on existing employees who are already underpaid.
“We’ve had to turn back grants because we didn’t have the capacity to move forward,” Ebersole Singh said.
League president Donna Mullins said the entire two-hour session will be available on YouTube.
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