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City Attorney Claims Cross Constitutional

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

At last night's City Council meeting, city attorney Tom Yeadon informed the East Lansing City Council of his opinion that the giant cross on St. Anne Lofts is constitutional, in spite of large sums of public funds having gone into construction of the project. Following extensive research, citizen Eliot Singer shows documentation that over $3 million in public financing or tax incentives went into the approximately $7 million project. The $3 million figure is arrived at "between the $1 million grant to the city for environmental clean up of the site and the Michigan Business Tax credit and Brownfield Tax Capture Plan approved by MEDC in 2011." (See p. 2 here; see p. 9 here; see p. iii of the FY2013 preliminary budget here.)

Repeatedly raising the question of whether it really even is a Christian cross, Yeadon gave his opinion that it does not violate the establishment clause of the Constitution because the building is a private structure, because the public funds didn't specifically pay for the construction of the cross itself, and because the project's owner didn't let the city know there would even be a cross until very late in the process. According to Yeadon, the public "monies were approved before this feature ever appeared on the plans. So the determination of what to use money for was without knowing about this feature." (See the design the city was sold here.)

Councilmember Vic Loomis took issue with Yeadon's characterization of the public contribution. Loomis noted that substantial public monies went into demolition and preparation of the site, and asked, "How do you build a structure if you don't demolish what was there, and how do you build anything without site preparation work?" He asked how Yeadon could conclude that public funds didn't go into building the building on which the cross appears.

Yeadon conceded, "that's a fair point," but went on to add, "my opinion doesn't rest on that."

Yeadon's opinion was captured in a memo he provided to Council before the meeting, but Yeadon's memo did not appear in the packet provided to the citizens. I asked City Manager George Lahanas to provide a copy of Yeadon's opinion to the public, but as of press time, Yeadon's memo has yet to be released to the public. The cross was not mentioned on the Council agenda, nor was there anything in the public packet to indicate to citizens that the city attorney's ruling on the matter would occur at this meeting.

Update: The City has now released the memo.

Read more at the notes from Council here.

Correction: When first published, this article indicated that "Eliot Singer estimates that about $3 million of public subsidies went into the approximately $7 million project" (emphasis added). This has been corrected to read "Eliot Singer shows documentation that over $3 million in public financing or tax incentives" (etc.; emphasis added) with details and links now provided.

City Manager's Philosophy of Citizenship

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Editor's note: This is the first in a planned series spotlighting the histories and philosophies of our City's staff members. Contact us if you have a suggestion about whom we should feature in the series.

Since being named East Lansing's new City Manager earlier this year, George Lahanas has been working to implement his philosophy of citizenship for the City. Earlier this year, Lahanas excited members of the Oakwood Neighborhood Association (this one included) with his vision of shifting city hall from seeing residents as "customers" to seeing them as engaged citizens. Since that time, Lahanas and his staff have been constructing the institutional infrastructure needed to carry out this philosophy.

City Seeks Citizen Input Under Weighty City Center II Legacy

Saturday, September 1, 2012

This week, City Planning staff will host two meetings to discuss "the former City Center II/Park District Planning Area" site with citizens. The City is expected to soon release a Request for Proposals (RFP) to potential developers of the areas. These two meetings (details below) represent rare opportunities for citizens to express their concerns and ideas before potential developers formally become involved in the next stage of trying to deal with the blighted area just northeast of Peoples Church.

But citizens must understand the major baggage that comes with this project.

Weedy Problem from Sidewalk Reconstruction

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The City’s summer sidewalk reconstruction program has left some residents with a bloom of unwanted weeds and a good deal of frustration. In many locales, sidewalk reconstruction necessitated replanting of lawn borders and parkways. The contractor, Sandborn Construction, appears to have used a seed mix or a topsoil that was high on weed seed. In some replanted areas, ragweed as tall as three feet high has emerged. There is also significant amounts of jumbo-sized crabgrass showing in many replanted areas.

In response to complaints, the City of East Lansing sent a letter in early July to affected residents indicating that the City has “contacted Sandborn Construction to review the restoration areas and give the City a plan of action to correct some of the areas.” (See the letter here.) The City told property owners that "Residents can ensure strong grass growth, while keeping weeds to a minimum, by periodically watering these areas to keep the ground moist. Although the contractor is responsible for the restored areas, we have found that those residents who supplement the contractor's efforts by watering every couple days experience much better grass growth with significantly fewer weeds."

ELi has since contacted the City for more information. Our questions, sent on August 24 to Lori Baetz, were answered on August 30 by Todd Sneathen, Director of Public Works (who has also previously provided useful information about parkways).

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