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LANSING - December 26, 2001

City needs to rethink priorities in new year

John Pollard

by John Pollard

My wish list for 2002:
— A return to open, honest and responsive city government is critical. City Council attacks on First Amendment rights must cease. Hopefully, 2002 will be the year voters will no longer fear retribution from the powers that be or their employers for their views on issues like the school bond.
— A more realistic view of Mayor David Hollister.
Suggestions that Hollister should or could be “mayor for life” are as un-American and undemocratic as they are ridiculous. When Terry McKane was mayor, he and his administrative assistant, Cleophus Boyd, were chastised by the public and blasted by the media for driving an old Cadillac and Thunderbird, respectively, that were paid for by the city. Now the current mayor is applauded and praised for having the city pay for his newest model Cadillac. Whatever happened to the mayor’s report cards for city departments? What about his pledge to eliminate the use of city cars by so many department heads and city employees? Maybe he can make it happen next year.
— A greater emphasis on citizens’ needs.
The plethora of sweetheart deals for developers or in the name of Regionalism, Old Town and Downtown Development that appear to be cut in the backroom haven’t added much to the city’s coffers, but they have alienated thousands of Lansing residents. The Boji parking ramp deal is just the latest in a perpetual parade of questionable and unprofitable deals struck by the city in the last eight years. The region has prospered tremendously under Hollister. Lansing, on the other hand, is hurting. Instead of benefiting during such an unprecedented period of economic boom, the city’s short- and long-term debt skyrocketed. Despite popular opinion and the mayor’s policies, economic development at any cost is not the Holy Grail. Snow removal, for example, is a far more important issue to Lansing residents. Economic growth has been a bust for the city. Too many residents feel taxed and fined to death as basic city services decline. It is extremely difficult to convince citizens that the city can’t help them because it doesn’t have the money when it so easily throws away millions of dollars so often for outlandish projects and developments. A greater emphasis on the needs of citizens must be reflected in the city’s budget priorities
— A better route for the gas pipeline.
Early next year will find Lansing engaged in a fierce battle to keep the proposed Wolverine gasoline pipeline from running through the city. Pipelines and population centers don’t mix. There are safer and admittedly more costly routes through rural and much less populated areas. Maybe the $4 million to $5 million being loaned the Bojis for a new downtown should have been given to Wolverine to help offset the costs for the pipeline to bypass Lansing altogether. I certainly hope to see a call to arms from city leadership on this issue.
— Doing right by teens and senior citizens.
Without a doubt these are the two most underserved groups in all of Lansing. Children under 18 are almost 27 percent of the city’s population. Those under the age of 21 equal 31 percent. Even with the advent of a teen advisory task force, teen court and the junior city council, the installation of new playground equipment, the construction of a BMX park and the opening of a skate park next year, the needs and concerns of Lansing’s teens go overlooked and unmet. Since the days of Model Cities in the 1960s, teen-agers have wanted and asked for a center. The school bond proposal rejected by voters on May 1 included $350,000 for it. Hollister used it as a carrot to help motivate teens to register to vote and then to vote for the school bond. The teens did their part. At least two, if not thee, of the four candidates who won their City Council races in the November election favor a teen center. Surely the mayor would be onboard. The city’s mantra is if you build it, they will come. Well, they (the teens) are already here. Besides, they’ve earned it. So, build it already.
Senior citizens are wronged the most. The loca l media are still falsely blaming seniors for the defeat of the school bond and maligning them regarding their motives. One would think such a powerful voting block would be courted and their needs catered to and fulfilled. Not in Lansing. Lansing residents ages 60 and over represent over one-eighth of the population, but you have to search high and low for the few real benefits they receive for their share of taxes or the city’s $102 million annual general operating budget. Where is the Senior Center they were promised seven years ago when the Civic Center/Veterans Memorial was demolished?
— Fairness to minorities.
Minorities make up 31 percent of Lansing’s population but receive less than 1 percent of the city government’s total purchase of goods and services. Even though minorities now account for 60 percent of the student population of the Lansing School District, they receive less than 2 percent of the $17.3 million spent on goods and services by the district last year. Too often lucrative contracts are awarded to out-of-town businesses and vendors without putting the contracts out for bids. Such practices smack of apartheid and 21st century Jim Crow. The purchasing practices of so many public institutions in mid-Michigan remind me of Ivory soap commercials; 99 percent white or so-called pure. Unlike the soap, these shameful practices cause Lansing to sink instead of float. Women-owned and Lansing-based businesses don’t fare much better than Lansing’s minorities. The time has come to break up this deplorable system of cronyism. The old boy and old girl networks must be put asunder once and for all. Economic justice for all is what is desperately needed in order for Lansing to really prosper. No more taxation without economic representation.
— Finally, Lansing needs to unite.
At long last the unification of the beer drinking, nylon jacket-wearing bowling crowd with the wine-sipping, quiche-eating, golfing crowd should begin to materialize. Lansing residents must understand the inescapable fact that we’re all in the same boat. No more backward thinking. The new year should be our time for getting along and thinking and moving ahead.

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