LANSING, MI –
Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says there are reasons for optimism as the new year begins.
A voter-approved millage proposal will prevent further police and fire layoffs. The city's unemployment rate has been dropping, and the city's manufacturing and insurance sectors have been healthy. Lansing's diverse economy has protected the city from what Bernero calls the "worst effects of the economic tsunami."
In an interview this week, Bernero told WKAR's Scott Pohl that the watchword for 2012 will be "regionalism."
VIRG BERNERO: I really believe you're going to see things that were unprecedented, starting with we're sharing a fire chief with East Lansing. There's going to be a lot of things that we have to do differently in order to maintain the quality of service that people expect.
SCOTT POHL: You've leaned very heavily on Jerry Ambrose to right things on the financial ledger in Lansing. You're losing him to a position in Flint. What does that mean to the process of working on the budget this year?
BERNERO: Well, you know, the best leaders build a farm team, and there's a deep bench in finance, even though reductions have been made there along with other departments. Angie Bennett is going to be interim finance director. She'll do a wonderful job. She's worked alongside Jerry for these last five or six years. I have the utmost confidence in her, but obviously, Jerry is irreplaceable. What we're losing in Jerry, it's much more than a finance director. He was also chief of staff, and at one time, also executive assistant, fulfilling three roles in one, and Jerry's experience and the respect that he commands on things like regionalism, having been at the county government for years and his great government experience and his reputation.
I'm hopeful that we're still going to be able to work with Jerry. He is going to Flint. I told him I'm going to give him six months where I'll leave him alone, but I'm hoping that Jerry comes back and does some work on regionalism, perhaps through LEAP, or regional economic development entity, which is doing some work with Michigan State University to try to move us along in this area of regionalism, this all-important regionalism initiative. I've talked about this for a lot of years, and I've worked on it, and now we have support from the executive office across the street. The governor is talking about effective regionalism. We need regional government that works!
POHL: There's a new face on the city council, Jody Washington. What does that do to your relationship with council?
BERNERO: Well, time will tell. I am cautiously optimistic. I've had some good meetings with Jody. My cabinet members, you know, she's availing herself of the cabinet to get to know city government even more than she has in the past, and so we're getting to know each other. I believe it'll be a big improvement from what was there, and I'm hopeful that the rest of council, even the members that I've had issues with, understand that the public really wants solutions. I think the public wants a functioning government.
I think we see this at the federal level. They're not into the partisanship, they're not into the petty political games. They want results, and that's what I'm trying to deliver them, and so I'm hopeful that we will come together with a new sense of cooperation and collaboration and seriousness that the task requires.
POHL: What's the future of the Waverly Golf Course property?
BERNERO: Well, again, that's sort of now in the hands of the council. I'm hoping to get it in the hands of the voters. I have been trying to get the council to put it on the ballot and let the voters decide if we can offer it up for sale. I don't have any plan, I don't have any specific proposal. It's a Lansing Township property, it's outside of the city limits. It's been closed for these last five years. I've tried to make it clear to the council and to the public, anybody who's willing to listen that we can't afford to maintain that as parkland or as a golf course. It's very valuable property, we think. It's in a commercial district that could be developed, so I'm hopeful that the council will take this first step and put it on the ballot. They failed to agree to do so in February, but maybe they will on the August ballot.
There's been a variety of excuses on the council's part for not wanting to move forward. They say, well, we don't have a plan, and I've admitted no, we don't, and it's not my job to have a plan. This isn't the Soviet Union or China, where everything is planned by the government. We have an active private sector, and my point is we have 2,000 acres of parkland, plenty of parkland in this city, more than most cities our size. It's outside the city limits. Let's put it up for sale! It's called put a for sale sign on it, that's the plan. Once we get voter approval, we essentially throw a for sale sign on it and see what the market will bear. Not everything is centrally planned by government.