ASK ELi: What's Up with Neighborhoods 1st?

Friday, March 13, 2015, 9:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Image: Neighborhoods 1st's Jim Anderson and Don Power.

Neighborhoods 1st, a political action committee (PAC), was very controversial in the November 2014 elections for its involvement in the land sale ballot question and the school board elections. An ELi reader recently asked ELi to find out whether Neighborhoods 1st is going to be involved in the May 2015 election and what we can know about them.

First a recap: In the run-up to the November election, I tried to find out exactly who is behind Neighborhoods 1st and how exactly they operate. As I reported in a series of articles, I was stymied in my attempts as I failed to get clear answers from James Anderson and Don Power, the two leaders of the PAC, about such things as who is on the supposed “executive” board. Indeed, as I reported, Anderson hung up on me when he decided my questions were too probing. (See our reports on: criticisms raised about Neighborhood’s 1stlack of transparency; criticisms of the PAC’s involvement in the school board elections; and the response of two endorsed candidates to those criticisms.)

In an effort to find out more about Neighborhoods 1st, I talked to Don Power this week, and also carefully analyzed the PAC’s campaign filings with the Ingham County Clerk’s office. (To see those filings for yourself, click here. Choose “public login,” then enter “Neighborhoods 1” under “Last, first” and hit “search.”)

Here is what I learned:

What does Power now say? According to Power, Neighborhoods 1st is indeed planning to be involved in the May 5 election. Although Power says the PAC will not take a position on the marijuana charter amendment because “it is outside our realm,” the PAC will be “full blown” involved in the land sale charter amendment. The PAC will oppose the charter amendment because the amendment would change the voter approval level needed for public land sales from 60% to 50% plus one vote.

Power says the PAC will use mailers (but not to MSU dorms), possibly newspaper ads, door-to-door campaigning, and, if invited, participation in public forums on the question. He says they will fundraise “mostly through personal contacts.”

If you want to read what Power and Anderson say the purpose of the PAC is, see their letter to the Lansing State Journal. ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols and I tried to get one or more of Neighborhood 1st’s critics on the record for this article stating their objections, but as of press time, none of the people we asked were willing to speak on the record.

Who really is Neighborhoods 1st? On this pass, Power was more forthcoming with me with regard to the leadership and decision-making structure of the PAC. This week he told me, "There are three people on the executive board—Jonathan Harmon, Jim Anderson, and myself. The three of us make those decisions with consultation with people we respect and who have information about it and whose views for-or-contrary we listen to.”

Anderson is an MSU professor and East Lansing resident. Power works for unions in negotiations and was elected to East Lansing’s City Council but resigned only a few months into his term. (Kathleen Boyle was selected by Council to replace Power.) Harmon lives in Holt, Michigan and according to his Facebook page he is Executive Director of UWUA Power 4 America Training Trust Fund, a company that does worker training.

What do the campaign filings tell us? Harmon is listed on campaign filings as Treasurer. He is also the Treasurer for Councilmember Ruth Beier’s campaign. Beier was one of the three original donors to the PAC and donated $200. She has not donated since her original contribution.

Beyond Beier, the following people have also been donors to the PAC. Unless otherwise noted, the residency is East Lansing:

  • Donald Power ($100)
  • Maureen McCabe Power (Power’s wife; $2,793)
  • James Anderson ($3,450)
  • Jeffrey Michael Astrein ($100, Huntington Woods, MI)
  • Mary Lou Terrien ($100)
  • Jonathan Harmon ($100, Holt, MI)
  • Alice Martin ($100)
  • Raymond Vlasin ($200)
  • Richard Brotsch ($100, Williamston, MI)
  • H. Gordon Taylor ($100)
  • John Kloswick ($100)
  • Eliot Singer ($250 donation in kind)
  • Liesel Carlson ($415 donation in kind)
  • Brian Reinerth ($100 donation in kind, Bath, MI).

 

Letters to the PAC from the Ingham County clerk suggest numerous problems with the PAC’s filings, including a late filing of a required form (leading to a $75 fine), math errors on submissions, and the filling out of some forms incorrectly.

 

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