Dec. 21 2016 11:36 AM

With two weeks to go, Council presidency up in air

If “better late than never — but better never late” matters, then Carol Wood is the clear winner over Kathie Dunbar — the two candidates for Lansing City Council president next year — when it comes to City Council attendance. This graph shows that Wood’s attendance at the 28 Committee of the Whole, or COW, meetings was perfect, whereas Dunbar was late nearly 70 percent of the time. COW, which is when the Council makes many of its decisions, precedes the City Council meetings, which is often pro forma.

Kathie Dunbar has distinguished herself of sorts by being on the Lansing City Council for a decade without ever being president.

Not that she hasn’t tried. And not that she has given up: Her hat is in the ring for 2017.

But her opponent is Carol Wood, and among the differences between the two is one with a bearing on who should lead: Wood has a perfect attendance record at Committee of the Whole meetings and Dunbar shows up late far more often than she makes it on time.

Wood’s supporters are making an issue of it.

Dunbar
“There seems to be an issue with promptness,” said 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington, an ally of Wood. “I cannot remember when that woman was ever on time. That’s absolutely the most basic thing — to be there.”

To be fair, Dunbar has been on time — eight times out of 28. The other 20 times she has arrived anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more late. Her on-time record is by far the worst among Council members this year. (See chart on this page.)

The COW meetings are important planning sessions for the Council meetings, which follow immediately afterward. They are a better indicator of on-time attendance than the Council meetings, since members are already on hand for the COW sessions.

The attendance issue helped undo Dunbar’s last bid for president in 2014. The year before, she was vice president as part of a deal with Brian Jeffries, who agreed to back her for president after he served in that role for a year.

That deal fell apart after Jeffries alleged Dunbar had poor performance issues related to attendance and the personal use of her Council computer.

Dunbar’s tardiness tendency compares badly to all other Council members, but particularly to Wood’s record. She has a perfect record at COW for attendance and being on time.

Wood
But Wood, president twice before in her 17 years on the Council, picked another issue on which to go after her opponent.

“The underlying issue is that there are some of us who spend the time to do the research to understand an issue,” said Wood. “Some don’t have the same drive to work through the issues.”

Wood was referring not to Dunbar per se but to the faction that is often identified as backers of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, comprising Dunbar, 4th Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko and the 2nd Ward’s Tina Houghton. All three were out of town, but Dunbar’s Facebook page showed she had looked at a message requesting comment for this story. She didn’t respond.

Wood, who ran unsuccessfully against Bernero for mayor in 2009, is often cast as the leader of the loyal opposition when the Council splits. She is frequently joined by Washington and 3rd Ward member Adam Hussain. Dunbar, Yorko and Houghton usually vote together in those cases. At-large members Judi Browne Clark and Patricia Spitzley are more often swing votes.

Wood questioned the appropriateness of having Dunbar as president in a year in which she is seeking a fourth term as an at-large member.

“Whoever that is becomes the face of Council,” she said. “That then opens up the potential questions as to whether or not the person is acting in the best interest of their re-election campaign or for the Council and the city.”

Wood, who was re-elected to her fifth term last year, was president in 2003 and 2013. The first time around was also an election year for her.

However, Wood started that year as vice president, only ascending to the presidency to replace Tony Benevides when he automatically became mayor under the City Charter after David Hollister resigned to accept a Cabinet post under then Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Today, Wood said, she would not agree to be either president or vice president if she were running for reelection.

Council members who were available for comment wouldn’t say whom they will support when the leadership vote occurs Jan. 9, the next scheduled Council meeting.

The next president needs five of the eight votes. If neither Dunbar nor Wood succeeds, then the Council might turn to Brown Clarke to succeed herself as president for a second term, some say.

But Wood’s criticism about being president while running for reelection would apply to Browne Clark as well. Her first term as an at-large member ends next year.

Brown Clarke is considering a bid for mayor next year, though. Doing so would take her out of a run for reelection to the Council. But that would likely only heighten Wood’s criticism about the conflict between being Council president and being a candidate at the same time.

While who will be president is up in the air, one thing is certain: At-large Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley says it won’t be she.

Who it will be she said she doesn’t know. “It will be a debate,” said Spitzley,” and hopefully it won’t last long.”