Meetings Will Start Late to Accommodate Beier, Over Draheim’s Objections
East Lansing’s City Council voted 3-1 last night to start Council meetings 75 minutes later than normal through the end of the year so that Ruth Beier can attend the full meetings.
The vote against came from Shanna Draheim, who called it unreasonable to change the schedules of everyone else—the rest of Council, City staff, people with business before Council, and interested citizens—just because Beier has an MSU class on Tuesday evenings.
Council then also voted 4-0 to end Beier’s leave of absence. This means Council should be back to full strength starting next month, as Beier will be able to attend full meetings with the later start time, and Mayor Mark Meadows will be back from his vacation in Spain.
Beier and Meadows had asked for leaves of absence because the City Charter says that a Council Member who misses four consecutive meetings loses her or his seat. Both were at risk of that if Council had not voted, on August 14, to grant them leaves.
But last night’s meeting saw a continuation of last week’s tense debate over how this all played out, with Draheim and Council Member Aaron Stephens again expressing frustration and disappointment over the maneuvering of other members.
Last night’s meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m., was supposed to be “discussion only” – meaning no votes would happen. But Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann, who acts as Mayor while Meadows is away, arranged the agenda so that Beier could ask at the end of the meeting for a vote to start the meetings late.
Beier arrived two-and-a-half hours in to what turned out to be a three-and-a-half hour meeting. By that point, Council had had a long discussion of regulation of wireless companies’ installation of small-cell transmission devices around East Lansing, and was well into a long discussion of how to manage the forthcoming East Lansing income tax, in preparation of upcoming votes on both of these matters.
Beier did arrive in time for a fine-grained discussion of the Development Agreement with DRW/Convexity that Council is set to vote on next week. That meeting will have to start at 7 p.m. because public notice already went out about it. (As ELi reported, only three votes are needed to pass the final items – the Development Agreement and tax increment financing plan – and it is possible Beier will get to the meeting in time to vote on those matters.)
When last night’s agenda moved to “Council Member Comments," at the end, Altmann started by asking Beier what she would like to say.
She formally thanked him and made a motion to vote to start the remaining 2018 regular meetings at 8:15 p.m., instead of 7:00 p.m. (“Regular meetings” are those where votes are expected to happen.) Altmann seconded her motion.
Beier then noted that asking for a vote at a “discussion only” meeting, as she was doing, was irregular, but said “so many important issues” are coming up at Council, she thought it would be better if Council could be arranged to have all five members present.
Last week, Draheim denounced the way this had all played out, calling it a “bait and switch” maneuver on the part of Meadows, Beier, and Altmann. This week, Draheim answered Beier’s request by saying that “in theory” she liked the idea of having Council back at full strength.
But, Draheim said, the last eight meetings had averaged two-and-a-half hours in length, and the later start time will impact everyone’s ability to participate without mental exhaustion. Draheim said she thought changing the time “is a lot of rigmarole to make this work for your schedule.”
Draheim said that Beier knew when she ran for reelection to Council last fall that she was going to have a Tuesday night class required for the teaching degree she is pursuing. Leaves of absence, Draheim said, are meant for things like medical and family emergencies, not known-in-advance professional conflicts.
Beier responded that she did not criticize Draheim when Draheim had to miss meetings for her job with the Michigan Municipal League. Beier also noted that Draheim had said she wanted the normal start time for next week because she has to get up early to drive to a work function the next morning.
Stephens said he supported the motion for a later start time, “because I believe the people of this city deserve to have the people they elected making decisions on behalf of them.” He also said he wanted to be understanding of Beier’s situation.
But, Stephens added, “I’m mad” at how this has played out. The announcement that Beier and Meadows wanted simultaneous leaves of absence was made only late in the day they asked for a vote on it, on August 14, the week after the income tax vote, even though Meadows and Beier knew well in advance of his forthcoming vacation and her forthcoming class.
Beier responded that she “knew about this [class conflict] for two years and discussed it with the mayor, and this was how he wanted to handle it.”
To that, Stephens objected that the decision wasn’t the Mayor’s, it was Council’s, and said she should have consulted with all of Council.
“None of this is just the Mayor’s decision,” said Stephens.
Beier then said she “hated this discussion,” and said that it was up to Council. If they wanted her at the meeting, they could change the start times.
If Stephens had voted last night with Draheim, the start time would not have changed. But, saying it was important to have the full Council available for votes, he voted with Beier and Altmann to change the times.
Beier then moved to rescind her leave of absence starting in October, which is when Meadows will be back and when the meetings will be starting later. All four members present voted in favor.
Correction: When this article was published, we wrote that "Council Member comments" represented "an agenda item that normally happens early in Council meetings." In fact, "Councilmember comments" has not appeared as an agenda item for any other regularly scheduled Council work sessions in 2018. In the three Council work sessions held preceding this one (on August 21, May 15, and April 17), there was no agenda item for comments or reports by Councilmembers. In the remainder of 2018 Council work sessions (March 13, February 20, and January 16), an item called "Councilmembers report" appeared near the end of the agendas. The sentence has been corrected to read: "When last night’s agenda moved to 'Council Member Comments,' at the end, Altmann started by asking Beier what she would like to say."