Council Capsule: March 17, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 12:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Image: Centennial sculpture, courtesy City of East Lansing

Present: Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, Councilmember Kathy Boyle

Absent: Councilmembers Ruth Beier and Susan Woods

Public comments: Two individuals presented during Public Comments, one from the Cole Academy charter schools to speak about setting up a school in East Lansing and one from the Sierra Club to speak about a lawsuit they are bringing against Lansing Board of Water and Light under violations of the Clean Air Act. Their comments are summarized as follows.

Cole Academy moving into East Lansing: Brian Shaughnessy, Principal and Superintendent at the Cole Academy, noted that a recent Lansing State Journal article about the Cole Academy potentially setting up a school in the Red Cedar School or the Bailey Community Center had elicited a typical “visceral response” to charter schools, and he wanted to address that. He noted that the Cole Academy is a nonprofit organization and that it is not anti-union, not anti-traditional-school, not anti-Democrat, and not anti-Republican. He said, “We are a quality school” and noted their test scores sometimes rival those of East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS). He said that last year Cole Academy tied ELPS for science on the MEAP tests and that they provide education to poor children. He said that Cole does “incredibly well” for that population, noting high rates of reading among their kindergarteners.

Shaughnessy told Council, “We invest in nothing the but the children.” He talked about investing in the buildings, arts programming, gym programming, and teacher continuing education including via Columbia University’s Teachers’ College and the University of Michigan. He said that the staff has been given steady raises, including 3.5% the first year, then 4%, and last year 8%.

He said that the goal of Cole Academy is to “have a sister elementary school in East Lansing” that will eventually, they believe, feed into a middle school and eventually, they hope, a high school. They have interest in the Red Cedar school but say they see that as a long shot, and see a much better prospect in the Bailey Community Center. They say they want to express their interest in that property but that if they don’t get a contract on that property they will move to purchase some other property in East Lansing.

Sierra Club Suing BWL for 3,500 Violations of the Clean Air Act: A representative from the Sierra Club of Michigan came to tell Council they are intending to sue the Board of Water and Light over 3,500 violations of the Clean Air Act. Problems relate to the coal-fired plants and what the Sierra Club says are major negative health effects particularly for people living near the Erickson power plant and the Eckert power station in Lansing. Maps were presented showing increased rates of asthma-related hospitalization for people living near these plants.

A 2014 CERES report rated coal plants nationwide according to amount of sulfur dioxide pollution per unit of electricity. The worst ranked was DTE. BWL was not rated but “The Sierra Club estimates that LBWL is polluting more sulfur dioxide per unit of electricity than the whole fleet of coal plants operated by DTW.”

Recognition of Joy Schroeder for service: Mayor Pro Tem Goddeeris formerly recognized Joy Schroeder for her ten years of service on the East Lansing Arts Selection Panel. Schroeder participated in choosing the mobile in the lobby of the Hannah Community Center, the Centennial Sculpture (shown above) which used to be displayed in Valley Court Park and is now in storage, “Raising Harmony” in front of City Hall, and the six artistic bike racks recently installed downtown, among other works of public art. Goddeeris said, “Joy’s knowledge of art and placement in the community is an invaluable asset to the Arts Selection Panel.” Schroeder was given a pad folio as a gift, along with a certificate of recognition.

Schroeder was then recognized by Michael Koppisch representing the East Lansing Arts Commission, who praised her and thanked her “warmly.” When she had her turn at the microphone, Schroeder said with a smile that she didn’t want to retire and wanted to stay on the panel and would do so if allowed. She said she has “thoroughly enjoyed being on this commission and anytime I am around art I am very, very happy, especially when I am choosing it or helping to choose it for the community.” She stated again she would like to continue the work.

In response Goddeeris noted that Schroeder could perhaps come back after a small break.

Recognition of Nancy Merino for service: Goddeeris also formerly recognized Nancy Merino who has served for many years on the Arts Commission, most recently as the Chairperson. She was recognized for her part in working on the Michigan Passageway mural in the Division Street parking ramp, the artistic bike racks, and the Mary Sharp sculpture. Goddeeris said Merino was instrumental in the urban mural project.

Michael Koppisch then also recognized Merino, noting that she her “quick wit, grace, and efficiency” made her a “superb chair” of the Arts Commission. Merino spoke to say she had found the experience “really gratifying,” and that it had been “fun and challenging.” She thanked all the people she had worked with. She was also given a pad folio and a certificate of recognition.

Goddeeris also recognized City staff Ami Van Antwerp for her service in the area of arts promotion. Goddeeris noted the City will be having an art gallery in the hallways of City Hall soon. Van Antwerp said it was great to work with great commissioners like Merino and Schroeder.

Mental Health Awareness Week presentation: Bryn Williams (community liaison for ASMSU) and Kiran Samra (chief of staff for ASMSU) presented on plans for Mental Health Awareness Week, March 30-April 3, 2015. They thanked the community of East Lansing for partnering with them on this. Williams and Samra noted that there is a 1:2025 ratio for MSU counseling staff to MSU student and that there is still a lot of stigma associated with mental health problems.

Events planned for the week of March 30-April 3 include a nap at the Planetarium from 1-3 on Monday, yoga at the Breslin Center on Monday at 7 pm, Zumba at the Breslin Center on Tuesday at 7 pm, and “Embrace the Rain” at the Erickson Kiva on Wednesday at 7 pm. On Thursday there will be a National Alcohol Screening Day in all the MSU “residential neighborhoods” on campus, and 8 pm that day there will be a performance of “BUG,” a play about schizophrenia.

Mayor Triplett thanked the presenters and read the resolution passed by Council on this programming.

Reports from Councilmembers and the City Manager: The only report provided came from Councilmember Kathy Boyle who wished everyone a happy St. Patrick’s Day and noted that there are seven times as many people in this country with Irish ancestors as those in the Irish republic. She said this was a “potent reminder that this is a nation of immigrants and we need to remember we are here because people travelled far and faced considerable difficulties to join this nation and we are all better for it.”

City attorney’s report: The City Attorney requested a closed-door session with Council to discuss pending litigation (this was granted) and discussed the upcoming charter amendment on land sales. See our special report on the latter.

MSUFCU granted permission to build more headquarter space: Council considered “an application from Michigan State University Federal Credit Union for Site Plan and Special Use Permit approval for the property at 2800 State Road to construct a new 187,300 square foot, three-story office building to the north of the existing headquarters building.” Staff praised the project, as did Council, for having many “green” technologies. There were no questions from the Council or the public on the application.

Goddeeris said she was thrilled with the application. Triplett said MSUFCU is a very important asset to the City of East Lansing including in terms of tax revenues and that they are a leader in sustainable design. April Clobes was present for the hearing and was congratulated on today officially starting her position as CEO of the credit union.

Consent agenda: The following items were passed on a “consent agenda” meaning that there was no further discussion, just a group vote of approval:

  • Approval of a resolution recognizing March 23-30, 2015 as Mental Health Awareness Week in the City of East Lansing. 
  • Approval of the appointment of John Swords to the Transportation Commission for a partial term ending on December 30, 2016.
  • Approval of a settlement of the claim of Juan Marin against the City in the amount of $10,000.00 for a release of all claims (read more).
  • Set a public hearing for April 21, 2015 for Ordinance No. 1344; a request from Phipps Robert J. (Trust) to rezone the property at 3200 West Road from RA, Residential Agricultural to B-4, Restricted Office Business District.  
  • Approval of the Election Commission’s recommendation to approve a resolution to temporarily move the Precinct 1 polling location from Brody to the IM West for the Tuesday, May 5, 2015 Election only.
  • Approval of a resolution congratulating the Michigan State University Sexual Assault Program on their 35th anniversary .

Council approves staff’s request exemption for rating of bond: City Finance Director Mary Haskell asked Council to approve a resolution “requesting the State of Michigan Department of Treasury to issue an exemption from the requirement of obtaining a rating for the Downtown Development bond” related to the Evergreen Avenue properties bought for the failed City Center II project. The City needs about $5.6 million to pay debt coming due on these properties on April 1.

The City decided to ask First Merit to issue this bond. To proceed without a rating, there has to be state-level approval and part of that involves a letter from First Merit stating they are an experienced investor and understand they are foregoing a credit rating. (Read more.)

Haskell reminded Council that the City has a Standard & Poor’s AA+ credit rating and a AAA rating with Fitch. Eli has previously reported on the City Manager’s concerns about the City’s credit rating potentially being downgraded soon because of our very large debt.

Council unanimously approved the resolution as requested.

Chili cookoff: Council considered “the use of Public Right-of-Way by the Downtown Management Board for the Downtown Chili Cook-Off being held on March 28, 2015 from 1-4 p.m.  Downtown restaurants will provide free chili samples to patrons of the event.” Staff member Amy Schlusler presented the plans.