Big Issues on Council’s Agenda This Week
East Lansing City Council’s May 14 discussion-only meeting agenda is showing dialogue planned on several big issues, including: a proposal to create a new board to review complaints made against police officers; the Council’s first discussion of the Royal Vlahakis Park Place project since December; and placing on the November ballot the Council’s ability to sell 27 acres of City-owned land on West Road.
While the meeting is not expected to result in any formal votes, consensus-building on major issues often happens at these discussion-only sessions. Council has recently made these discussion meetings more accessible by paying to video broadcast and record them like regular voting meetings.
Proposal for a new Public Safety Review Board
For three years, the Human Relations Committee has received an annual report from the Police Chief about the disposition of complaints against police officers. Since the last report in January 2019, the Commission has been discussing how it might set clearer expectations of this reporting process and increase its effectiveness.
The complaint process has not been widely used in East Lansing. Over the last three years, 15 complaints were made by members of the public, and 16 complaints were generated within the Police Department.
From these discussions in the Human Relations Commission came a process that led to the proposed ordinance, which creates a new Public Safety Review Board. Council member Aaron Stephens, the Council liaison to the Commission, asked City Attorney Tom Yeadon to draft the ordinance, which is on the Council’s May 14 agenda.
The proposal for a new Review Board (for complaints made against firefighter/paramedics as well as police) was discussed with Police Chief Larry Sparkes, City Manager George Lahanas, and Human Relations Director Shelli Neumann, the staff liaison to the Commission.
Neumann told Human Relations Commission members at their May meeting that the draft also takes into account the contracts with the police and firefighter unions, which define disciplinary procedures for union members.
Stephens’ plan is to ask at the May 14 meeting that the draft ordinance be referred to the Human Relations Commission for its recommendation before the Council votes on it.
The draft ordinance includes:
- A Board composed of one member from each of the Human Relations Commission and the University Student Commission plus three East Lansing residents, “preferably members with a law enforcement background.”
- The Board and its members “do not have the authority to review any portion of the investigative file.”
- The Board can vote to refer complaints to the City Manager for review of the investigation, for one of four reasons. The City Manager may either sustain the disposition made by the Police Chief or send it back to the Chief with instructions for further review.
Royal Vlahakis Park Place Project
The Council is expected to meet for the second time with developers from Vlahakis Development and Royal Apartments USA to discuss their desire to undertake redevelopment on Evergreen Avenue north of Albert Avenue and the timetable for consideration of their latest ideas.
Paul Vlahakis started talking with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) in August 2018 about building on a large section of land including Dublin Square’s (which he owns) plus four properties that the DDA purchased 10 years ago in hopes of promoting development at the west end of town, near Valley Court Park.
The developers and the DDA signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement in December, which commits the developers to purchase these properties for $5.6 million if the project receives all the necessary approvals. That agreement was amended by the developers and the DDA in an 8-1 vote on May 2.
According to meeting disclosures, the developers have already met privately with Mayor Mark Meadows and Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann six times between October and May 1 and with Council members Shanna Draheim and Ruth Beier once in March.
A schedule of private meetings with no more than two members of Council at a time is how developers normally consult with Council members in East Lansing before a formal public hearing on their proposal. (Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, no more than two of the five Council members may meet privately to discuss matters that could come before Council, because three members constitutes a meeting quorum.)
Inviting the developers to meet with the entire Council on May 14 gives Council members the opportunity to ask questions of the developer and the staff and provide input together on the developers’ latest ideas. This could reduce the time and money needed to design a project that the Council is more likely to approve.
The developers have presented several site plans that have changed significantly over time. The latest staff memo, prepared for the May 14 Council meeting, says “the developer may be providing an updated site plan that staff will post when received.” (Check for it here.)
Getting the West Road property sale authorization on the November Ballot
The City is looking for City Council to have authorization to sell 28 acres on West Road just south of Coleman Road. A map of the property is provided, but there is not yet any staff memo explaining this issue further. Some explanation can be expected on Tuesday.
The City Charter requires approval by the City’s voters to sell any City property currently valued at or above about $200,000. The Council must adopt a resolution containing specific ballot language, including a date for the vote, in order for this to happen.
The ballot language typically does not say to whom the property will be sold or for how much. It simply seeks the voters’ consent to allow City Council to arrange a sale as the Council sees fit.
On Tuesday, Council will also consider “Allocation of additional one-time revenue sources.” This is likely to include discussion of how to spend any proceeds from the sale of the West Road property and also the sale of the former Department of Public Works site on Merritt Road.
Council voted in early March to approve a Purchase Agreement with Kodiak Landarc LLC to sell that land for $1,000,900 after Jeff Yatooma, representing Kodiak Landarc, won the right in an eBay land sale that was only revealed to the general public after it was over. City Council has declined to answer repeated questions about that auction.
If the land sale for West Road ends up on the November ballot, it will be on the same ballot as Council elections. The terms of Mark Meadows, Erik Altmann, and Shanna Draheim are ending, and all are expected to run for reelection in November.
Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
- the timetable for creating a new, form-based zoning code for the downtown;
- reviewing Priority Based Budgeting Results;
- progress on Safe Routes to School.
The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the courtroom upstairs at City Hall, and public comments can be made at the beginning of the meeting.
Written comments to all Council members can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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