WEDNESDAY, June 7 —- The Lansing Board of Ethics gave City Council member Jeffrey Brown a slap for one alleged violation of the ethics ordinance and apparently ignored a second alleged violation.
Brown misrepresented a grant request to Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin’s office as the city's official position, an investigation commissioned by the board found. The board voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend that the Council increase training for itself on financial issues and grant requests, particularly for Brown.
The board apparently left the finding of a second alleged violation unaddressed in its recommendation to Council. According to the investigation, Brown “has suggested that his support on matters is based upon whether he has received reciprocal support on a matter of importance to him.”
Both alleged violations were included in a report by Southfield attorney Gouri G. Sashital, whom the board hired to conduct the investigation. The board formally referred the report to the Council for any further action it might want to take.
The investigation grew out of a complaint made on March 27 to the ethics board by Mayor Andy Schor and five Council members: President Carol Wood, Patricia Spitzley, Peter Spadafore, Adam Hussain and Jeremy Garza.
This is the first time since the ordinance was passed in the 1990s that the board has referred a complaint to the Council for action. Referrals and recommendations are advisory to Council, which can take any action it deems necessary.
Brown’s attorneys argued the Council member erred based on a misunderstanding with Schor when he asked Slotkin to consider finding funds for grants for two new nonprofits he hoped to create, one to address homelessness and the other to serve international residents.
“Once he became aware that the Mayor would not support these proposals, he immediately discontinued any efforts to obtain funding” from Slotkin, his lawyers said in a statement they issued last week.
Brown is is represented by Brendon Basiga and Eric Doster. Basiga runs Basiga Law Firm P.C. in Lansing and specializes in criminal cases. Basiga resigned from his position with the ethics board last month, noting he represented clients doing business with the city. Doster is a longtime GOP activist and attorney who most recently made headlines in representing former President Donald Trump in a possible recount of the 2020 presidential election.
“I’m inclined to believe Council Member Brown was not trying to act serendipitously,” said board member Keith Kris, a Schor appointee. He said it “sounded like” Brown simply didn’t understand the process.
But of the second allegation, Kris said, “My personal interpretation here is that there is a lot going on here that certainly is not within the norms of a City Council member.”
Brown did not attend the ethics board meeting. His attorneys said he is on a religious mission trip to the Philippines. Little is known about how Brown makes a living beyond his part-time position as a Council member. According to his attorneys, he is a "minister who holds a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Leadership from Kingdom University International.”
Doster told the Board that Brown had not had training on the funding processes or on the ethics ordinance.
But Council President Carol Wood said today that Brown had gone through training on both – twice since taking office last year after being elected to a four-year term as an at-large member in 2021.
The original complaint by Schor and the five Council members accused Brown of quid pro quo offerings with a local developer and the head of the Lansing Housing Commission. The investigation did not find those direct quid pro quos.
What’s next is uncertain. Wood said the Council will refer the investigator’s report to the Committee of the Whole to decide “how to move forward.”
Spitzley said, “I wish the ethics board had done its job,” referring to its apparent indecision on the allegation that Brown conditioned his support for matters before the Council on support for him and his causes. She called it a “punt.”
“It’s going to take our attention away from the work we need to do for the city.”
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