Lansing City Council is splitsville. After hours of back and forth debate, the body failed Monday to come to a consensus on who would make up the leadership for this year.
Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, the acting head of the body under the City Charter during the leadership selection process, said the eight-member Council deadlocked, 4-4, seven times.
He said officials voted to a draw twice on electing Lansing City Councilwoman-at-Large Kathie Dunbar to the presidency; twice on elevating Carol Wood, another at-large member; and once each on attempts to place Judi Brown Clarke, who is also an at-large member of the Council, back in the presiding chair, and once to place Patricia Spitzley, also an at-large member, in the position. A motion to name Dunbar to the president’s role and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton vice president died on 4-4 vote as well.
Dunbar characterized the split as an “aisle” in the Council, making a reference to different parties in Congress. On Dunbar’s side were Houghton, Spitzley and 4th Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko. On the other side were Wood, Brown Clarke, 3rd Ward Councilman Adam Hussain and 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington.
There were also eight additional motions offering various councilmember combinations for leader ship. Those failed to come to a vote because one, or both, nominated members declined the offer.
The divide has been a longstanding issue on the Council, with the Wood contingent often painted as the “anti-Bernero” group, and Dunbar’s group define as “pro-Bernero,” in reference to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.
Dunbar's tardiness record became an issue during the voting Monday night, with Washington raising it from the Council dais as she had told City Pulse in December she would. Sptizley opposed Brown Clarke for president because of her potential run for mayor.
Swope, Spitzley and Washington all said the 2017 election was playing a clear role in the fight for leadership. Bernero’s third term ends this year, and while he has not formally announced he will seek another term, he is widely expected to do so. If he does, he will face a likely challenge from State Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, and Brown Clarke is also mulling a possible run for mayor. Brown Clarke must decide before the April filing deadline if she will seek reelection to her at-large Council seat or run for mayor — she cannot run for both. Houghton, Yorko and Dunbar are also all up for reelection.
Washington, in a Facebook post and interview on Tuesday morning, said the backroom maneuvering for leadership appears stuck on the composition of the Development and Planning Committee. Those aligned with Dunbar want to see the current committee broken up, with more Bernero allies on it. Wood’s team would like to see Brown Clarke, Washington and Hussain run the committee.
So why is this committee such a sticking point? It’s the body that considers developers’ proposals for everything from taxpayer-supported developments to payments in lieu of taxes — so-called PILOT developments — to approving simple zoning issues.
That committee has been a source of consternation this year.
Hussain, Washington and Wood are being sued by developer Sam Sabroury. He alleges that they violated the federal fair housing laws and discriminated against low-income residents, particularly of color, when they denied his request for a PILOT early last year. They deny any wrongdoing.
Piling on top of that, Councilmembers have proposed a bidder ordinance in response to concerns from organized labor that the SkyVue project on Michigan Avenue cut out local organized labor in the bidding process for the build. That proposal would require developers receiving tax incentives from the city to perform an open bidding process, including opening all bids in public. Organized labor is supportive, but the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce opposes the proposal.
“It’s about the bidder’s ordinance, because the mayor doesn’t want to say ‘yes’ and piss off the chamber,” said Washington. “And he doesn’t want to say ‘no’ and piss off labor. If they take it over they can take out the ordinance.”
Spitzley, who wants to serve on the committee, said the bidder’s ordinance has nothing to do with it for her.
“That was the furthest thing from my mind,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I want people on the committee with experience with development.”
She works for the Racer Trust, a company working to dispose of former General Motor properties across the country.
Council will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to continue the battle for leadership, Swope said. Whether the body can carry out any other business for the city remains unclear, he said.
“It really hampers the ability of anybody to do anything,” he said. “That’s a detail we’ll have to confirm with the city attorney.”