Objection Raised to Mayor’s Online Criticism of Planning Commission

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Thursday, October 9, 2014, 5:15 pm
Alice Dreger

At the East Lansing Planning Commission last night (October 8), during the period reserved for commissioners’ reports, Commissioner Erik Altmann took issue with Mayor Nathan Triplett’s online criticisms of East Lansing’s Planning Commissioners. Altmann specifically objected to Triplett’s characterization of Planning Commissioners as being afraid of new technologies and as perhaps hiding political agendas.

The matter revolves around a discussion at the September 24 Planning Commission meeting of a parking plan put forth for a would-be 10-story building at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue. The on-site parking design calls for valet-only parking using an underground garage accessed via a car elevator. (See ELi’s report on the latest Planning Commission discussion of this plan.)

At the September 24 meeting of the Planning Commission, the Commissioners had asked City Staff to obtain data on the reliability of these technologies, research into what happens for car owners when they malfunction, and estimations of how long the traffic back-up can be expected to be from this system during peak use times.

Posting live to his Facebook account from the meeting, Triplett wrote, “it never ceases to amaze me that we treat well-established technologies like they were UFOs that suddenly arrived on the horizon.”

Triplett also remarked in the discussion thread that followed that “Comments from the ‘public’ and some Commissioners intentionally (and misleadingly) suggest that neither lifts nor valet parking can work in East Lansing’s downtown, without any information and having done zero research on the subject.” He said there is “the assumption that new things can’t work in East Lansing” and suggested that some were “using ‘concerns’ with no basis in fact as a pretext to further a particular agenda.”

Altmann began his comments last night by saying to the Commission, “On a lighter note, I wanted to draw everybody’s attention to the fact that we have a fan on Facebook, and I wanted to read some of the comments from our fan.” He then read from the discussion thread from Triplett’s Facebook page. (Click here to view the Facebook thread.)

Last night, Altmann interpreted Triplett's comments to mean that “we’ve all got our minds made up and we’re all luddites.” Altmann told the Commission his concern was that “there are people out there thinking we’re not doing our jobs because of what [Mayor Triplett] posted.”

Altmann told the Commissioners that it had appeared that Triplett had deleted the thread, but Triplett told me that “Mr. Altmann’s assertion is incorrect” and that the thread has always remained visible.

I asked Triplett to explain what he meant by comments that seem to say that East Lansing Planning Commissioners are intentionally making misleading comments and that there has been "“using [of] ‘concerns’ with no basis in fact as a pretext to further a particular agenda.”

Triplett replied:

“A responsible approach to evaluating a new technology or practice that has worked successful elsewhere is to start from the assumption that it will work here and then to evaluate the evidence and specific circumstances to see if there is something unique to East Lansing that makes the use of the technology impractical or inappropriate. On the other hand, it is entirely inappropriate, and a disservice to East Lansing residents, to begin every evaluation of a new technology or practice with the assumption that something is new therefore it cannot work here. That is especially true when the technology in question, be it parking lifts or pay by smartphone parking meters, has been widely used in circumstances far more demanding than ours. Our decisions should be guided by the evidence, not by preconceived notions or a bias against change.”

Planning Commission’s agendas, including attachments, and recordings of the Planning Commission meetings can be viewed at the City’s website: http://www.cityofeastlansing.com/meetings For archived videos, scroll down to the last green bar on that page--which says “Planning Commission”-- and click on that. Then use your cursor to move the window view down until you see the meeting you want to view. You can also view Planning Commission meetings live through that page.


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