May 11 2017 02:57 AM

Planning Board member under fire for marijuana advocacy

Three Lansing City Council members think Planning Board member Josh Hovey has a conflict of interest and want him to resign. Hovey is the spokesman for a marijuana legalization ballot initiative and as a Lansing Planning Board member has worked to loosen restrictions in a proposed medical marijuana ordinance pending before the Council.

“I am now at the point that I think having Josh Hovey on the Planning Board is an absolute conflict of interest,” wrote 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington in an email to four Council members and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. She accused Hovey of advocating for a dispensary that she claims was operating “illegally.”

Councilwoman At-Large Carol Wood and 3rd Ward Councilman Adam Hussain said they agree with Washington that Hovey should resign from the Planning Board, which is advisory only.

Steve Japinga, director of government relations for the Lansing Chamber, who was copied on the email, declined to comment. Hovey chairs the Chamber’s political action committee.

“I think she’s been watching ‘Reefer Madness,’” Hovey said Saturday by Facebook, referring to a classic anti-pot movie from the 1930s. “I’m not representing any of the medical marijuana businesses, so I can’t see how there is a conflict.”

He noted that he serves “at the pleasure of the mayor.”

Randy Hannan, Bernero’s spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hovey worked for Virg Bernero in the Mayor’s Office in 2006 and 2007.

Hovey said he has recused himself from decisions when his employer, the marketing and advocacy group Truscott Rossman, represented the developer with business before the Planning Board..

“I think I offer some good experience and have consistently demonstrated strong leadership,” he said.

The property Washington is concerned about is 4215 N. Grand River Ave., home to First Class Releaf, a medical marijuana dispensary. The property was zoned for offices. But it has since been changed to a commercial zone. According to minutes from a public hearing for that change in zoning on Feb. 7, Hovey said nothing about the proposal.

Attached to Washington’s email are several pages of minutes from that same meeting of the Planning Board. The board was reviewing zoning regulations in a proposed marijuana licensing ordinance. During that meeting, Hovey led the move to delete a 500-foot distance between medical marijuana dispensaries, noting the draft was “being regulated as though it were recreational.” The move was adopted by the Planning Commission on a 4-0 vote, but ignored by the City Council Committee on Public Safety. Both Wood and Hussain serve on the committee.

“Whether or not marijuana is legalized, Josh has clearly lost any sense of objectivity,” Washington wrote. “He has taken it upon himself to scold councilmembers and push for unethical zoning.”

She could bring an ethics complaint against Hovey under the city’s Ethics Ordinance. That law, passed by voters in 1996 to fulfill the requirements of a voter approved amendment to the City Charter on ethics, requires an affidavit of disclosure be filed when there may be a conflict of interest or an “appearance” of a conflict.

The City of Lansing Ethics Manual, available online, instructs those impacted, including appointed board members, to “discuss the matter with your supervisor and file an Affidavit of Disclosure.”

Those affidavits are filed with the City Clerk’s Office. Chris Swope, the clerk, said Monday Hovey has not filed an “Affidavit of Disclosure.”

Asked if Hovey should file, Swope said, “I don’t believe I have enough facts to make a determination, and ultimately it would be the Board of Ethics who would make a determination.”

But he added, “My initial reaction is that I don’t see how the number of or proximity between establishments in the City of Lansing impacts advocating for or against a statewide ballot proposal.”