Our choices for Charter Commission


Lansing voters are now receiving absentee ballots for the city’s May 7 special election, in which nine members of the new Lansing Charter Commission will be selected. The commission, you may recall, is the upshot of last November’s narrowly approved ballot measure to reopen the city’s foundational document for the first time since the current version was adopted in 1978.

Last September, we urged voters against this step, and we remain skeptical about its wisdom. Reopening and possibly rewriting the city charter isn’t a task to be taken lightly. Wholesale charter revisions are an expensive — the city estimates easily more than $500,000 — and time-consuming process that diverts precious energy and resources from the city’s innumerable challenges. Any shortcomings in the current charter can be addressed through specific amendments as the need arises, as voters have done seven times in the last 45 years.

Still, here we are. Having spoken, voters should use great care in choosing the members of a commission that will have the power to recommend fundamental changes in the structure and function of municipal government. Proposals set forth by the commission must win the governor’s approval and then can be put up for a citywide vote, giving the people of Lansing the last word. The commission has three years to complete its work.

From a sprawling field of 36 candidates, winnowing it down to just nine is no small task. There are no formal criteria for serving. But when we think about who should have the privilege of rewriting the charter, we envision a collective of smart and sensible people, the sort of folks whose life experience has forged a keen sense of how things really work, and a better sense than most for how they should work.

That’s why our endorsements lean in on the wisdom and insight of people with deep experience working in and around the public sector. They are de facto subject-matter experts whose informed perspective is essential to the commission’s work.

Mixed into our choices are bright and passionate young people to ensure that multigenerational voices are embedded in the process. We  purposefully struck a balance that reflects the city’s diverse demographics, with proportionate representation, more or less, along the lines of gender, race and geography. Some of our preferred candidates are also endorsed by the Lansing Chamber/Organized Labor coalition, and some are aligned with the Lansing Community Alliance, a slate of progressive candidates who came together as a counterpoint to the business-labor slate.

We intentionally limited our endorsement of former City Council members to just one (three are running) and strongly recommend that voters avoid loading up the commission with past Council members who may bring ideological agendas and old axes to grind. We’re not interested in commissioners of any stripe who come to the task with a baked-in agenda that’s more about carrying water for a specific constituency than considering the best interests of the city as a whole.

Along the same lines, we have also eschewed candidates who we suspect want to move the Lansing government to a weak mayor/city manager system. That goal may have carried the ballot measure to success in a low-turnout election through a quiet campaign organized by a handful of citizens with a paranoic animosity toward the current mayor. City managers can and do work well in other communities, but we’re generally satisfied with the steady leadership Lansing’s strong mayor system has provided. Moreover, we prefer having the executive branch of government run by an official directly accountable to voters, not to the City Council.

With the foregoing rationale underpinning our selections, and without further ado, we endorse the following well-qualified candidates for the Lansing Charter Commission:

  • Jazmin Anderson is the director of equitable economic development at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP). Anderson brings a passion for building equitable and inclusive communities to the commission.

  • Layna Anderson is a communications specialist at MSU, who previously worked at Downtown Lansing Inc. She brings a commitment to social justice and the fresh perspective of her generation to the commission.

  • Dedria Humphries Barker is an author and educator who served on the LCC faculty for 18 years. (Full disclosure: She is also a City Pulse columnist.) Her insights and wisdom will be an invaluable asset to the commission.

  • Joan Bauer served on the Lansing City Council for 11 years before winning election as Lansing’s state representative. Her knowledge of the inner workings of government, along with her steady demeanor and thoughtfulness, will serve the commission well.

  • Liz Boyd has worked at the highest levels of state government as an adviser to governors and other top officials and enjoys a distinguished career as a public relations practitioner. She’s smart, savvy and sensible — exactly what the commission needs.

  • Ben Dowd is the associate director of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan. His keen understanding of the city’s socioeconomic landscape and commitment to creating shared prosperity make him a fine choice.

  • Guillermo Lopez retired in 2014 after three decades as a city of Lansing employee. Combined with 24 years as an elected member of the Lansing Board of Education, Lopez brings a deep well of public sector knowledge and experience to the commission.

  • Derek Melot is a former journalist (and longtime LSJ staff writer) who now works as the communications director for a statewide association. Melot has spent decades as a keen observer of government at all levels. His watchdog instincts and pragmatic perspective will benefit the commission’s work.

  • Keith Williams is a former MSU administrator and current leadership consultant who led the MSU Alumni Associationfor 13 years. His experience managing large, bureaucratic organizations gives him exceptional insight into what works and what doesn’t.


We’re sure that other candidates from the field of 36 would also do a fine job, but we had to pick just nine. Our second-tier candidates — all qualified and capable — include Jerry Norris, an entrepreneur and founder of The Fledge; Mitch Rice, a retired behavioral counselor; Justin Sheehan, executive director of the Lansing Promise; Lori Adams Simon, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant; and Corwin Smidt, an associate professor of political science at MSU.

Have something to say about a local issue or  an item that appeared in our pages?

Now you have two ways to sound off:

Write a letter to the editor.

  • E-mail: letters@ lansingcitypulse.com
  • Snail mail: City Pulse, 1905 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing, MI 48912
  • At lansingcitypulse.com

 Write a guest column.

Contact Berl Schwartz for more information: publisher@lansingcitypulse.com or (517) 999-5061. (Please include your name, address and telephone number so we can reach you. Keep letters to 250 words or fewer. City Pulse reserves the right to edit letters and columns.)


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us