In Michigan
10:52 am
Thu October 14, 2010

Lansing city councilmembers' decorum called into question

LANSING, MI – Lansing officials aren't giving up on getting a tax incentive plan for a housing project near the City Market passed by city council. The council rejected the incentive plan Monday night, throwing the development into question. It's not the first time the Lansing city council has disagreed over how the city should move forward.

Disputes between councilmembers are fairly common. But the intensity of the disputes is increasing. WKAR's Rob South covers city hall and says the general decorum of the council members seems to be deteriorating. He joins us this morning, Good morning Rob:

Audio:

Rob South: "Good morning, Melissa."

Melissa Ingells: "You've been covering various municipal governments around the state for (the) better part of actually 20 years now, and it seems like Lansing, perhaps, has kind of a perennial problem with a pragmatic approach to government. Is this common from your experience, or is this unique to Lansing?"

South: "Well, first of all, it's not unique, but it's not common, either. What I think is unique here is to the level at which this government is taking things. There's a very obvious split on the city council. People are very familiar with the side of city council which supports Mayor Virg Benero's initiatives, and the side of council which does not support Mayor Virg Benero's initiatives. And I think we can honestly say here that the split on Monday was those two factions. That's kind of where the division comes."

Ingells: "Kind of essentially along party lines, except that mostly "

South: "Exactly along party lines!"

Ingells: " (it's) those that are with the Mayor and (those that are) against the mayor "

South: "So, it does happen in other municipalities. This isn't unheard of. What is different, I think, is the level the degree at which it happens."

Ingells: "Well, give us some examples, then, of behavior of councilmembers that you think is out of line, or not as professional as it should be."

South: "Well, let me go back to Monday. There really is a precedent for the council just approving this measure. I'm not going to tell you that everything was right with the language of the agreement, and that they should have approved it. That's not what I'm saying. The way that the law is written, you have to have a specific reason to reject it. The reasons that the councilmembers who voted against the measure gave on Monday night may not have met that requirement. There's some question as to whether or not they legally could have rejected this, so there may be a lawsuit in the future. I don't think so, because I think that's why they're going to pass it eventually. You've got people that are voting on issues, but not explaining why they're not voting for them. That troubles me a bit, but that's politics. But you also have, sort of, this general troubling immaturity about council, and, sort of, unprofessionalism. You know, as I sit and watch the city council, there are councilmembers who are on their computers, texting on their cell phones, there are some councilmembers who eat dinner at the dais, there are councilmembers who don't even look up during public comment, who ignore the public when the public is talking. One councilmember, during a debate the other day, turned his back to the chamber "

Ingells: "Kind of sounds like all the stuff that'd get you in trouble at school, ya know?"

South: "It is! and I watch this, and I'm thinking to myself, This can't really be happening!' I've seen this behavior before in individuals, but I've never seen it happen to the extent that it happens at the city council. I'm not going to name names here, because I don't think that's appropriate I think people should look for themselves and decide whether they think their councilmember is doing the job they need to do. But I think there's a level of immaturity at the council that's rather troubling."

Ingells: "So, what do you think causes this? Why do you think they're having such a hard time coming together?"

South: "It's plain-and-simple politics. It's an us against them' mentality. Like I said, there's a division on the council, and both sides seem to have cultivated that as acceptable, and there's not a lot of pragmatism that goes on between them."

Ingells: "Well, is there anything that they can do, or anything that the public can do about this to improve the situation?"

South: "You know, unless you change the personalities of the people who are on council, unless you change the the people who sit up there on the board, no, I don't think so. I think that they're doing what they think they need to do. The voters, on the other hand, really need to pay attention to who their councilmembers are. What are they voting on? What are they disagreeing with? And then, is that, even if they support the issue, is that issue really being supported by the resolutions that they're putting forward? In other words, sometimes resolutions get put forward that may look good on the surface, but then there are all these little side political issues that get thrown in and mixed together that really just create that tension, and sometimes it's just a matter of creating tension and not really about creating policy."

South: "Alright Melissa, thank you!"