On Tuesday, October 7, City Council passed Ordinance 1339 which provides for private and public funding of public art in East Lansing. The vote occurred after a debate between Mayor Nathan Triplett and Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris about the state of the city’s finances. The ordinance ultimately passed by a vote of 3-1, with Goddeeris voting against and Council member Susan Woods recusing herself.
Ordinance 1339 requires funds to go towards art projects in the city, including potentially the various festivals (e.g., art and folk). Developers engaged in new projects or rehabilitations over a certain amount will be required to donate thousands of dollars of their own funds to public art. Part of the City’s annual budget will also be diverted specifically to an art fund.
One person spoke at the public hearing; citizen Ralph Monsma said he was in favor of the ordinance. After Triplett closed the hearing, Council member Kathy Boyle moved approval of the ordinance. (Woods then asked if that meant the vote was now happening on the ordinance. Triplett explained this was not the vote, this was only a movement that would allow them to begin discussion.) Council member Ruth Beier seconded Boyle’s motion.
Discussion then began. Boyle said she was supporting the ordinance because it represents “a modest but steady approach to funding art.”
Beier asked about the numbers involved. She also asked for assurance that these funds would not end up coming from TIF (tax increment financing) on projects, i.e., she wanted to know that the developer’s “donations” would not actually come from tax revenues diverted from public services. Triplett said that would not happen.
Woods asked if there would be grant money for projects. Triplett explained such grants come from a different fund. Woods replied, “I just wanted to make that clear.”
As discussion of amendments began, City Attorney Tom Yeadon reminded Woods that she should recuse herself because she is the Director of the East Lansing Film Festival. A vote to recuse Woods passed and she left the room.
A number of relatively minor amendments were adopted. During discussion of possible amendments, a contentious debate broke out between Goddeeris and Triplett when Goddeeris tried to put through an amendment that would delay the start of the funding as well as the start of fund distribution. Goddeeris told Council, “I’ve been troubled by this. It’s a great idea to have art. I love it. But it’s a timing issue for me.” She expressed serious concerns about the City’s economic situation.
Gooddeeris argued that passing the ordinance but building in a delay would allow for preparation financially and preparation also in terms of giving the Arts Commission the time it would need to prepare to manage the new system.
Triplett strongly disagreed with Goddeeris, insisting that there should be no delay. He said that “part of the idea was some level of parity of both entities,” with both the private and public sectors “having flesh in the game.” He said Goddeeris’s proposal would require private donations immediately but public donations would be put off several years.
Goddeeris responded that because the ordinance will only apply to future proposed development projects, not any “in the pipeline,” that means it will be years before the developers would be required to pay their part. She suggested this meant there would be parity of timing if her amendment passed.
Triplett objected again to her framing, suggesting she was “exaggerating the position we find ourselves in financially.” He added that “artificially pressing it out is something I can’t support.”
Goddeeris said she would “take one more stab at this. I think we know as we’ve seen with the sewers and the sinkholes that these things come up, and we’re starting to see it more and more.” She expressed concern about committing public funds too soon, away from service to art.
There was a vote on Goddeeris’s amendment to delay implementation of the public funding portion of the ordinance. Gooddeeris and Beier voted for Goddeeris’s amendment, Boyle and Triplett against it, so it failed to pass.
Beier went on to say she would support the ordinance “solely, I hate to say, because it’s a small number. I don’t want to earmark a significant amount of money for art before we do what we need to do in terms of sidewalks and sinkholes.” But, she said, people had told her it would make a more attractive city, and she would support it on those grounds.
Goddeeris said she didn’t want anyone to misconstrue her vote of “no” on this as not supporting art.
When the vote occurred, Beier, Boyle, and Triplett voted in favor of the ordinance, and Goddeeris against. It therefore passed.
Photo courtesy of City of East Lansing.
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