Another 3-2 Vote at Council Supplies Mayor With Special Power

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019, 7:50 am
Alice Dreger

Because he was elected by City Council to run the meetings, Mayor Mark Meadows believes “it is appropriate” for him to have special agenda-setting powers. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

The five members of East Lansing’s City Council agreed with each other on a number of points at their meeting Tuesday night. But what they did not agree about was whether the Mayor should have more power than the other four members of Council when it comes to setting the Council’s business agenda.

On that point, Mayor Mark Meadows, Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann, and Ruth Beier gave whoever is acting as Mayor the right to put any item on the business agenda. That came against the votes of Shanna Draheim and Aaron Stephens who wanted to make the Mayor “legislatively equal,” in Stephens words, to the other four members of Council.

In East Lansing, the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem are elected by the five members from among themselves. (The Mayor Pro Tem is essentially a substitute for the Mayor.)

The same 3-2 vote split on this agenda issue, with Draheim and Stephens in the minority, has been seen repeatedly on this Council.

It happened, for example, on votes to allow taller buildings downtown, the decision in 2018 to extend Tom Yeadon’s contract as City Attorney without opening it up to other applicants, and the decision in 2019 to give Yeadon three more years as City Attorney with a 25 percent increase in his contract. In each case, Stephens and Draheim voted no, and were outvoted.

That same split also happened in 2018 on a vote to give the Mayor more power in responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. East Lansing formally has a City Manager form of government, but in practice, with the support of Altmann and Beier, Meadows has been increasing the power of whomever serves as East Lansing’s Mayor.

The result of last night’s vote is that an item can go on the business agenda if:

  1. The City Manager believes it needs to go on the next business agenda.
  2. The Mayor wants it on the next business agenda.
  3. Two members of Council agree that it should go on the next business agenda.

As ELI reported yesterday, originally Stephens wanted to go with the second and third options for agenda-setting. He explained that he wanted it that way because then, if the City Manager needed something on the agenda, he or she could just ask the Mayor and get quick action.

But a wording change to the Council’s operating procedures suggested by Meadows and agreed to by Council added the first option. Adding a provision for the City Manager to act negated the reason Stephens had put in the second option — letting the Mayor alone make such a decision.

The terms of Draheim, Meadows, and Altmann have less than two months remaining. Draheim has decided not to run for re-election, while Meadows and Altmann are up against four challengers. If Meadows and Altmann win re-election, Stephens can expect to be in a similar position on major issues.

Stephens is the one who brought forward the whole matter of the Council’s operating procedures. He did so after expressing frustration that he and Draheim have been stymied in trying to get items for votes on the business agenda. Draheim supported him in this action.

Before the vote on the agenda-setting policy, Stephens reiterated that his “goal is equal legislative ability” for the five members of Council who are elected at-large by the people to serve.

But when Altmann asked Meadows “what the mayor thinks,” Meadows said that since he was elected by Council to run the meetings, “it is appropriate” for him to have special agenda-setting powers. Altmann and Beier agreed.


Correction: A typo suggested that Stephens originally wanted options 1 and 2, when he in fact wanted 2 and 3 originally. This was corrected at 3:40 p.m. on the day of publication. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info