Council Candidate Forum Draws Large, Engaged Crowd

Thursday, October 1, 2015, 10:52 am
By: 
Ann Nichols

From left to right: Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, Mark Meadows, Steve Ross, Jermaine Ruffin and Nathan Triplett

It was a full house for last night’s City Council Candidate Forum at the Hannah Community Center. The event was organized by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of the Lansing Area, and moderated by LWV member Camilla Davis, of Dewitt.

According to League member Marilyn Wilson, questions were asked by audience in written form, collected by runners and taken to panel of three LWV screeners who sorted and organized them to prevent duplication. Audience members were submitting questions for at least fifteen minutes before the start of the event, and there were many more questions asked than the candidates could answer in the allotted time.

The candidates are Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, Mark Meadows, Steve Ross, Jermaine Ruffin and Nathan Triplett. The Forum’s format allowed each of the six candidates an opening statement after which they were all asked to answer audience questions and allowed a one-minute closing statement. The order of presentation was based on drawing numbers.

All of the candidates laid out their major campaign themes during opening statements. Meadows opened first, and focused on “healing” the City and bringing back the “disenfranchised.” Ross emphasized the need for “a change in the way business is done on Council,” as well as “smarter development” and “greater transparency.“

Draheim stressed the importance of strong, safe neighborhoods, as well as the need to address “declining revenues,” “aging infrastructure,” and the “distressed and blighted entrance to our City.” Ruffin stated that the election “is about you, our children, and the future of this great City” and the need to elect those “with vision and experience.”

Altmann spoke of three priorities: “blight at the corner of Grand River and Abbot,” “how we tax and how we spend in East Lansing,” and the need for a Council that “understands that it doesn’t always have the right answers.” Triplett stressed his “record of moving the community forward,” and the need to create “a stronger financial foundation,” to “invest in critical infrastructure,” “to build a community that’s welcome to all,” and to build “a vibrant downtown and strong neighborhoods.”

The candidates were then asked seven questions by the audience, which were as follows:

  1. What is your vision for East Lansing’s sustainable future growth?
  2. If someone came to you as a member of City Council with the issue of raw sewage coming into basements, would you feel compelled to respond, and if so how, and how would you address the City’s critical infrastructure issues?
  3. What is your understanding of East Lansing’s financial situation, and how would you address the challenges over the next four years?
  4. People come before City Council and make statements at the appropriate time, and then sit down. Councilmembers separately discuss agenda issues and vote. There seems to be no dialogue. What do you think about that system, and what would you change?
  5. How can you encourage business to come to East Lansing without using the student population as the main attraction?
  6. Which neighborhood do you live in and what have you done in last six months to help your neighborhood?
  7. If you’re in favor of downtown development, how will the cost of improvement to infrastructure be paid for?

 

In general, the candidates agreed on issues of sustainability, the need to improve aging infrastructure, the gravity of financial issues facing the City and the need to strengthen neighborhoods and revitalize the downtown area. There were clearer differences on the issue of tax increment finance (TIF) as a development tool and on the ways in which citizens engage with City Council.

The Candidate Forum was recorded, and is available for viewing on the COEL website and on local channel WELM. Voters may watch the video in order to form their own impressions of the candidates before the election on November 3.

In addition to the questions and answers available to voters through the Candidate Forum, East Lansing Citizens Concerned (ELCC) has provided ELi with the results of an email Q&A with City Council candidates asking four finance-related questions. You can read the questions, and the answers from the four responding candidates here.

To learn how to register to vote, where you vote, how to vote absentee, and how exactly this election for Council works, click here. To read profiles of the six candidates, click here. To learn what we know about the campaign finances of the six candidates, click here.

 

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