First time East Lansing City Council candidate Aaron Stephens is an undergraduate student at MSU majoring in Political Science and Pre-Law. He got into politics to “volunteer myself up to give back to the community in the best way I could,” co-founding MSU’s Student for Sanders his sophomore year while interning for Representative Gretchen Driskell. After that, Stephens “spent some time interning with the MI Senate Democrats as well as being a researcher for the Institute of Public Policy at MSU,” which led to an offer to work on the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Asked about his goals if he’s elected to Council, Stephens answered, “one thing that I can definitively bring to the table as your next city council member would be to help bridge the gap between the university community and the City. As an involved student, as an engaged East Lansing citizen and as someone who has worked with MSU administration a countless number of times, I possess the skills and experience to better utilize this relationship.”
About town-gown relations, Stephens refers again to “bridging the gap,” specifying that he has “already begun working on a citywide program initiating bystander intervention training for local East Lansing businesses.” He says he and supports a “better collaboration with public safety on busy game days or working with student leadership groups to explore initiatives, such as an off-campus student code of conduct” because “having a more unified community encourages students to invest in our community and strengthen their intentions of making East Lansing their home.”
Stephens’ other goals include improving downtown development and the environment. About downtown development, he told ELi, “My plan is to add depth to our downtown area. Our downtown should be catered to both students and permanent residents. Local businesses can only thrive in an environment where it is accessible, safe, and comfortable. Adding growth will incentivize the community to enjoy the space, which will then translate to an increase of patrons to local businesses downtown. Supporting business development downtown, like a grocer, that will accommodate both students and residents.
On the topic of the environment, Stephens said, “I plan to make recycling easier and more accessible to apartment complexes in East Lansing. I am committed to Mayor Meadows’ original goal of moving East Lansing towards 100% renewable energy. Small, low cost initiatives to increase our energy efficiency, this could be a solution as simple such as providing a free tire pump outside City Hall to reduce car emissions.”
Asked about major issues facing Council, Stephens cited “development downtown, financial stability and infrastructure repairs.” Asked about possible solutions, he explained that “[w]ith two-thirds of the City’s budget going towards public safety, I would like to renegotiate payments for fire services that are used by the university, and overtime pay for East Lansing police officers during game days. Stimulating development and growth to create new sources of revenue from property taxes, and the income tax proposal.”
On the income tax ballot proposal, Stephens has previously “maintained neutrality” based on his belief that “a negotiated agreement between the university and the City is the best solution. My main concern with the tax as it stood was that it would disproportionately impact students and low income renters who would not benefit from the property tax reduction while still being affected by the income tax.
Stephens went on to say “The city council has now agreed on a $5,000-dollar exemption, which means that a majority of students working part-time will not be affected by the tax. I would have preferred that this exemption be included on the ballot in order to solidify its standing with future councils. However, our city needs revenue, and since negotiation with the university is at a standstill, the proposed income tax is the only viable option available to us.”
He said he would now be voting “yes” on the income tax “because I would like to see our crumbling infrastructure repaired, our debts paid, and a sustainable revenue source for the City which grows with each year,” but noted that “there are several things we can be doing to become a more efficient city with or without the passage of the tax. With 2⁄3 of our yearly budget going towards public safety, we need to explore a regional approach to fire safety, such as greater partnerships with surrounding communities and MSU for the few days we need extra hands on deck in our city.”
Finally, Stephens addressed the recent failure of the Park District development at the blighted corner of Abbot and Grand River. “I am very glad to see the blighted areas will be torn down. I hope while conversations are still being had for the financing of development, that the space is still open and available for the public to enjoy. The developer has stated that they will continue to explore options for the future with the City. If we need to take a more modest approach to the development with the lack of financing from the MEDC so be it.”
See Aaron Stephens’ resume here.
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