Looking to avoid the tribal struggle that delayed the leadership decision last year by nearly a month, the 2018 City Council is poised to approve Councilwomen Carol Wood and Jody Washington to leadership posts. Wood has the votes to be named Council president. Washington would be vice president.
Wood and Washington, often at odds with outgoing Mayor Virg Bernero, believe they can establish a more collaborative relationship with new Lansing Mayor Andy Schor.
“I can work with any of them as leadership,” said Schor of the leadership debate.
“I have good working relationships with all eight members of the council.”
City leaders see Schor’s landslide win and the election of Council members promoting teamwork as a sign that voters wanted to end the contentious relationship between the mayor and the council.
“I believe we heard from the residents clearly that the contention on Council has to end,” said Washington. “People want us to work together for a shared vision. But they also want us to agree to disagree without being disagreeable.”
After 17 years on the council, serving in a near full time capacity, Wood knows where each and every lever and button is to make the city bureaucracy move. As Council president, Wood would set the agendas for Council meetings, assign committee chairs and ultimately decide what issues come to the floor for consideration, and which languish.
Initially, Wood could assume an outsized role in directing the city as Schor learns the complexity of Lansing government and his role as mayor.
In an interview with City Pulse, Bernero noted that he struggled in his first weeks to grasp the complexity of the bureaucracy and gain control over it.
Schor laughed when asked about this.
“Look, I know where the coffee pot is,” he said. “I believe I will be working with whoever is in leadership to set the agenda.”
In interviews, Wood, the longest serving member of the body, and Washington, with six years representing the 1st Ward, both confirmed that they’d been quietly meeting with other Council members to lobby for the leadership roles.
“It looks like it right now,” said outgoing President Patricia Spitzley, an at-large member of the council, of a likely Wood- Washington leadership duo. “But, you know, I learned you never say never.”
After initially stating she would not be the 2017 Council president, Spitzley ended up in the post as part of a grand bargain struck between differing factions. Wood was elected vice president.
Spitzley, as well as 3rd Ward Councilman Adam Hussain both confirmed they were prepared to cast ballots for Wood and Washington. Incoming At-Large Councilman Peter Spadafore confirmed he too will vote for the duo.
Combined with their own votes, the two women would have the votes to take the positions.
Brian Jackson, 4th Ward Councilman-elect, declined to comment.
Returning At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar did not return a phone call or text messages seeking comment. Second Ward Councilman-elect Jeremy Garza did not return a phone call either.
Mayor-elect Schor is expected to roll into office with a very different leadership style. He has a history of consensus building in both the state Legislature, where he served in the Democratic minority, and while on the Ingham county Board of Commissioners.
That’s a dramatic shift in styles at the top. Bernero was an aggressive leader who grabbed the reigns of power in a strong mayor form of government and used it to drive his agenda and vision. That leadership style led to the development of an us versus them mentality in city hall. Bernero and his team regularly cut people out who would not vote or push his agenda the way and at the time he demanded. He would ridicule those who appeared to drag their feet or stand in the way. That bred animosity, observers and participants said.
Wood has been seen as an adversary of outgoing Mayor Virg Bernero, leading a faction that threw roadblocks in his efforts to move developments and policy quickly through the council. Washington has been a reliable vote in that block, although both women deny they were opposing Bernero’s actions merely to oppose him.
“It was a process of having things given to us at the last minute, without all the information, and being expected to vote on it,” said Wood. “But I have an obligation to check this stuff out. To verify how it will impact the city and the residents.”
Spadafore said despite the factionalism of the past, he has obtained assurances the council won’t devolve into that again.
“I’ve been assured that won’t happen,” he said. “And I take them at their word. We’ll see in a year.”