Erik Altmann Centers Re-Election Bid on Quality of Life Concerns, Environmental Issues

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Thursday, August 1, 2019, 7:45 am
Brad Minor

Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann (pictured above) believes his determination and integrity has earned him another term on East Lansing’s City Council.

"I think I’ve shown that I keep my promises,” Altmann said in an interview with ELi earlier this week. “We promised four years ago to stabilize the City’s finances and to get the bank buildings torn down. We got those things done, and it was by staying focused and working hard.”

“My interests are aligned with the interests of the City,” he added. “I’ve lived here for almost 20 years and I’m going to live here a lot longer. I have a stake in the outcome and I have a track record that shows I’m serious about doing this job.”

The Canadian-born Altmann (from Edmonton, Alberta) came to the U.S. to pursue a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Following that, he served a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychology at George Mason University.

After his time at George Mason, Altmann moved to East Lansing to join Michigan State University’s Department of Psychology. He specialty is cognitive issues; for example, right now he is studying the effects of interrupting people when they are in the middle of a task.

“What we find is that when someone is interrupted they often omit steps in the process and repeat steps. These are the kind of interruptions that can cause plane crashes and other things, so that’s the reason we’re interested in those questions,” he said.

Bailey resident took action, got results

Altmann has lived in the Bailey neighborhood with his wife and two cats since having moved to East Lansing in 2000.

Altmann said he started to get involved in local politics and government about seven years ago after the state lifted the ban on commercial-grade fireworks.

“After the state decided to allow those fireworks, my neighborhood got really loud. It was scaring the animals and keeping people up at night,” he said. “I did my homework and I realized the City had some control over when people could use fireworks."

He attended his first City Council meeting and told the members at the time that this was a quality of life issue and six weeks later an ordinance was passed.

“It was then that I realized just how much of a role local government can have in the day-to-day quality of life issues for residents.”

Altmann first ran for office in 2015 and was elected along with the current mayor, Mark Meadows, and outgoing councilmember Shanna Draheim.

His proudest accomplishment since being elected was getting the income tax passed, which was approved by voters in August 2018 — something he says will give the City more resources to focus on that quality of life issues.

Altmann said that he was one of the early proponents of the income tax and was actually pushing for it during his first election campaign because he thought it was the best way to the shore up the City’s finances.

“The big thing is now we’re going to be able to pave roads and fix neighborhood infrastructure,” Altmann said. “That was going to be an issue because the City was facing financial problems and budget cuts and we didn’t have the money for things like parks and trails or infrastructure. With the income tax passing, the City's finances are stable and we’re going to be able to start investing again,” Altmann said.

If he is re-elected Altman said that there is still a lot he wants to accomplish. Once that income tax money starts to roll in, he’ll make sure it gets spent on infrastructure — specifically in the neighborhoods and improving and expanding East Lansing’s parks and trails.

“We need to make sure we’re spending that money wisely and also viably so we can improve the quality of life for residents.”

Environmentally conscious

Altmann also wants to make sure some of the new funds he expects the City to have go toward improving the Hannah Community Center and to improving the sustainability of City buildings and operations.

“I would like to see us generating power from our City buildings and City property instead of consuming power,” Altmann said. “I think we need to look at putting solar onto the properties that are available to us and start feeding power back into the grid. Long term, it would cut operating costs and be good for the environment.”

To further help the environment he would like to see the city transition to an all-electric vehicle fleet and encourage the use of electric vehicle among residents.

Altmann’s “moonshot” goal is to make the rental neighborhoods close to campus and downtown more attractive to families and professionals. He said that there is a big need right now for family-oriented rental housing in the City.

“We’ve approved an awful lot of quality apartment-style housing,” he said. “I want to encourage students to take advantage of that and get out of some of those old houses and see if we can find ways to encourage landlords to fix them up and rent them out to families."

Downtown plan shows progress

Altmann said for the most part he is pleased with the way downtown development is coming along because according to him, the City is following a plan: to increase the density of housing in downtown.

“When you increase the density that means more people are walking around with money in downtown to spend,” he said. Altmann believes this will reduce a lot of the traffic congestion because people will be living closer to where they spend their days — on campus — and therefore it will encourage walking and bike riding.

Altmann has not endorsed any of the candidates running to replace outgoing councilmember Shanna Draheim but he did officially endorse Mayor Mark Meadows for re-election to the council.

“The mayor has been an essential part of the progress that we have been able to make the past four years,” Altmann said. “He has twenty-five years of experience working in state and local government and his leadership was essential to getting us through the City’s fiscal crisis and getting important things done like getting the old bank buildings torn down. For those reasons, I’ll be supporting the mayor’s re-election.”


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