City Seeks New Director of Planning, with Dempsey Departed for Private Sector Job

Friday, August 9, 2019, 8:58 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Tim Dempsey and Annette Irwin (photos courtesy City of East Lansing) and The Hub project.

With long-time Director of Planning, Building & Development Tim Dempsey having left the City of East Lansing for a private sector job in his field, the City of East Lansing has posted a call for applicants to fill the major role.

For now, Annette Irwin has been named Interim Director of Planning, Building & Development. Irwin’s regular position – head of Rental Housing – is in one of the five divisions that had been overseen by Dempsey. The other four are Building and Permits; Community & Economic Development; Parking; and Planning & Zoning.

Dempsey also served East Lansing as Deputy City Manager, a position that put him in charge of City operations when City Manager George Lahanas was away. There’s been no indication about whether another person has been or will be named to that position.

Indeed, the City has been pretty quiet about this major change, even though it’s been mentioned in conversation at City meetings for several weeks.

There’s been no press announcement of Dempsey’s decision to leave and, so far as we can ascertain, the only mentions of it have been in two places: the job advertisement, which shows up on a general employment information page that also advertises for other openings in City employment, and a short Facebook post on August 1.

That Facebook post said, “Today, we say a bittersweet farewell to East Lansing Department of Planning, Building & Development Director Tim Dempsey, who is moving on to a new job opportunity with Public Sector Consultants.” The post goes on to hail Dempsey as “a consummate, hard-working professional and exceptional leader during his 15 years of dedicated service to the City of East Lansing and he has made this community a better place.”

Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants (PSC) provides various kinds of research and analysis for Michigan governments and people looking to do work with governments. The firm describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan consulting firm that is trusted, respected, and engaged in our community.”

The City of East Lansing has sometimes hired PSC, as when it did so to obtain community input during attempts to pass the income tax. Council member Shanna Draheim was employed by PSC prior to her current position with the Michigan Municipal League.

Major redevelopment issues still pending

The timing of Dempsey’s departure means he won’t be at the City Council meeting on Tuesday where Council will consider a site plan for a million-dollar public property that Dempsey listed on eBay for sale.

The City has never answered questions from ELi about why so few people were told about the eBay auction. Via the Freedom of Information Act, we found that Dempsey personally contacted a small group to let them know about the auction. But while it was going on, the auction was never mentioned on the City’s webpage, in press releases, or at City Council, despite City leaders having said in many other contexts that they want to maximize revenue for the City.

Dempsey’s departure leaves Irwin in charge while a number of major redevelopment issues are pending. The Center City District project is getting ready to fully open, but there are still no answers to questions about when the City will start seeing income from leasing the public land to the private developers.

Meanwhile, the Royal Vlahakis “Park Place” deal is reaching the end of the latest contract for public property on Evergreen Avenue. Core Spaces is pushing to build another Hub on Bogue Street. And the City is supposed to be undertaking a major housing study.

Dempsey’s position grew to what it was — encompassing both the Building Department and the Planning Department — under the stress of another major development project, namely the St. Anne Lofts building on Albert Avenue (the one with the big cross). That project involved so many failures of oversight by the City that the Lansing State Journal produced a major investigation, naming a “bureaucratic collapse” – a reference to the collapse of a floor of the building during construction.

In its reporting the State Journal wrote: “City administrators in East Lansing, from the chief building official to the city manager, knew for weeks – if not months – that an unauthorized fifth floor was under construction at the downtown St. Anne Lofts development project. They knew the developer and his contractor were violating state law by building there without a permit. And, even after the fourth floor of the building collapsed — casting greater attention and scrutiny on its progress – they did not stop the project taking shape about a block from City Hall.”

Under Dempsey’s more recent leadership, the City has been seeing about $500 million of redevelopment downtown. The job posting for his replacement captures the importance and power of the position he held, noting it includes “oversight of 30 full-time and 10 part-time employees across five functional divisions,” work with elected officials and volunteer boards and commissions, development of budgets, and more.

The posting indicates that whomever obtains the new position will receive a salary of “$83,725 to a maximum of $117,219 (depending on qualifications)” with a “full benefit package.” The position was posted August 1 and is set to run through August 30.

 

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