TUESDAY, Feb. 25 — The Lansing City Council is expected to tweak a city ordinance to strengthen financial controls and increase oversight on spending within its Human Relations and Community Services Department in light of conflicts-of-interest problems discovered under former executive director Joan Jackson Johnson.
Mayor Andy Schor proposed an amendment to the Basic Human Services Ordinance on Friday after Johnson was placed on paid leave and retired in the wake of a recent audit that uncovered the possibility of conflicting interests, misappropriated grant funding and other financial missteps in the city.
The ordinance, which calls for 1.25% of general fund dollars to be used for basic human services, is expected to be amended to include additional purchasing policies, a more transparent process for grant applications and additional financial oversight from the city’s Human Relations and Community Services Advisory Board.
The amendment would also enable other departments that perform basic human services to spend those dollars and allow the city’s internal auditor to be included in the review and auditing of the grant application process. Schor’s goal: Ensure an “effective and fair process” for city spending.
“Assisting Lansing residents in need is an important focus of the City of Lansing, which is why we reserve 1.25% of our taxpayer dollars in the general fund for basic human services,” Schor said in a release. “This updated ordinance will ensure an effective and fair process for allocation of these dollars with appropriate citizen input.”
Johnson was placed on paid leave last month (and retired this month) after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified city officials about conflicting interests stemming from her department last year. Auditors hired by the city later uncovered myriad additional concerns.
Their report found at least $1.38 million in city funds — under Jackson Johnson’s direct oversight — had been funneled into various nonprofit groups in which she was either directly involved or had ties to her immediate family. That included at least $86,000 that directly benefited those charitable agencies, auditors contended.
Those findings have since been referred to federal investigators for further review. No criminal charges have been filed. And in the meantime, Kim Coleman, a former candidate for the deputy director of the department, has been selected to replace Jackson Johnson as director. Monday marked the start of her second week on the job.
The amended ordinance is expected to be discussed at the City Council’s Committee of the Whole next month before it moves to the full City Council for passage. Council President Peter Spadafore called the changes “long overdue” and expects his colleagues to make quick work of the changes over the next few weeks.
“What we’ve learned over the last few months is that previous administrations failed to ensure a system of checks and balances for accountability,” Spadafore said. “I’m eager to review the mayor’s proposed changes and work toward an ordinance that provides more accountability, greater transparency and ultimately better service to the most vulnerable in our community.”