Two mayoral cabinet members exit

Planning director Brian McGrain resigns; Sanchez Gazella retires


WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1 — Brian McGrain resigned last week as the City of Lansing's planning and economic development director to become executive director of a nonprofit association of commuunity action organizations.

McGrain tendered his resignation on Jan. 23. The resignation took effect Friday.

“I am very excited,” said McGrain. “ No time is a good time to leave. But I did feel like that this was the best time for a transition. I had finished up some projects I had been working on, so it just felt right.”

One of those projects was the Lansing City Market building on the Riverfront. McGrain said he was proud to shepherd the re-use of that building into Lansing Shuffle, a mixed-use dining and entertainment venue.

“You know, that’s something I inherited when I took the job — what do we do with the City Market,” he said in a phone call as he was boarding a plan for a pre-planned vacation. “I am really proud and excited about what that has become.”

McGrain will become the executive director of Michigan Community Action. The Okemos nonprofit  serves as an association of 28 community action organizations in the state.  It works to assist its member organizations in addressing economic needs in communities across Michigan to address poverty. 

Schor said there was “no bad blood at all” at the sudden resignation of one of his top advisers. McGrain was already planning a vacation this week and “decided to cut the cord” rather than go on vacation, return to work a week, then leave.

“Brian McGrain poured himself into his job and worked tirelessly to ensure our economic development agenda moved forward and we were able to grow Lansing. He oversaw the task of moving to form-based zoning and so many other reforms. I’m excited for this new opportunity for him,” Schor said in an email.  

McGrain took over the department from Bob Johnson after Schor won the election in 2017. At the time, Schor made the decision to elevate the representation of neighborhood needs and concerns to the cabinet level by creating and appointing a leader for the Department of Neighborhoods and Citizen Engagement. McGrain said at the time Schor was going to focus on development outside downtown Lansing. 

“I think a criticism of Bernero that I had heard was always that, ‘What are you doing for neighborhoods,’” McGrain said at the time. “I think Andy Schor really wanted to respond to that by putting this cabinet-level oomph out there, by saying I want to hear actively from the neighborhoods.”

When Schor ran for a second term as mayor, he touted $2 billion in new economic investments in Lansing during his first term in office. McGrain played an intricate role in shepherding those investments into play. 

McGrain came into office just as the city faced a crisis with Lansing Housing Commission properties. A fire in LaRoy Froh housing killed a mother and her child in June 2018, and a review of property records found the properties had not been subjected to the same scrutiny an inspection regimens as private landlords. 

Those woes didn’t end with the LHC. McGrain also spoke about the ongoing problems and concerns the city had in finding unregistered rentals as well as holding multiple unit property owners accountable for the conditions of their properties. 

“It is so challenging and it was something I was trying to evangelize on,” McGrain said about efforts to improve rental properties in the city. “This goes well beyond the physical. Poverty and mental health are things we need to be very aware of. But there are still very limited resources from the state to address that. Trying to draw attention to not just the quality of housing, but the issues underlying housing is going to be really important.”

In addition to heading one of the city’s key departments, McGrain served as treasurer for Schor’s campaign for mayor in 2017. According to campaign finance records, he served in that role until July 2021. Heather Ricketts of Kalamazoo was added as treasurer for the campaign committee in July 2021, campaign records show. 

Schor has appointed Barbara Kimmel as the interim director of Economic Development and Planning. She was a development manager.

“Barb Kimmel has been a driving force in the department and will provide consistent, steady leadership,” Schor said in a statement. “I know she will do a great job leading this large City department in the interim.”

McGrain also sang praises for his temporary replacement. 

“She’s a longtime city employee,” said McGrain of his interim replacement. “She is going to do very well in that position, whether short-term or long-term. I am very excited to see what she does.”

In addition, Human Resources Director Linda Sanchez Gazella is retiring from the city effective this evening. Sanchez Gazella was appointed to the position in Schor’s first term in 2017. She’s worked for the city in a variety of roles for 17 years, city spokesman Scott Bean said. 

Elizabeth O’Leary will take over as director of human resources. A graduate of Thomas Cooley Law School, O’Leary has worked for the city  for nine years, the last 15 months as chief labor negotiator. She previously worked in the Human Resources Department within the Labor Relations Division. 

“Linda has been a true friend and confidant. Her years of service in Lansing government have proven invaluable to me and my entire administration. I will miss her guidance and counsel and wish her all the best in her retirement,” Schor said. 

Sanchez Gazella’s time as HR director was a bumpy one. She was heavily criticized by two outside reviews last year. One study looked at the fire department and the other looked at the police department. Schor defended her performance after the reviews were released. In May 2021, she posted on Facebook about the potential coming rapture

Brian McGrain, Linda Sanchez Gazella, Andy Schor, City of Lansing, Barbara Kimmel, Elizabeth O'Leary


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