March 5 2009 12:00 AM
A local activist arranged a “positive peoples party” via the social networking Web site,, for Monday night’s Lansing City Council meeting, which stirred a group of millennials to descended upon the meeting to talk-up our fair city.

Their aim was to combat what they see as a cloud of negativity — blamed on the “regulars” who attend Council meetings each Monday, deriding government officials and their policies — hanging over the city with positivity and "fresh vibes."

Maybe it's a sign that optimism is the new black. Whatever it means, and however it happened, the lobby outside Council Chambers played host to a gaggle of Lansing residents seeking to spread some positive energy.

Jessica Yorko, the organizer, who also is a member of the Board of Public Service, said she wanted to encourage residents who support the changes occurring in Lansing to come and speak during public comment. She said that she's heard people say they feel "disenfranchised" and "unwelcome" to share their views at meetings, something she ascribes to the "hostile and negative climate."

"A lot of people don't want to be around that kind of negativity," she said, referring to the regulars, or CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people, as they were described in one version of Yorko’s Facebook invite.

After a series of meetings that have included commentators being ejected from Council meetings, the arrest of Barry Shiffer for allegedly assaulting police officers in the lobby of City Hall and the general opposition of some community members to Council President Derrick Quinney's attempts to crack down on public comment fouls such as clapping, Yorko and her fellow dispensers of positivity partied before the meeting with cheese, crackers and an "idea box" for suggestions on how to improve public comment.

In the first invitation sent out over Facebook, recipients were encouraged to speak on two items of interest: A proposed sidewalk snow removal ordinance and the proposed re-zoning of the Butler/Ottawa block for a mixed-use development by local developer Gene Townsend.

Yorko, who is in a relationship with Townsend, said the organizing effort shouldn't be interpreted as drumming up support for her boyfriend's “Sobi Square” project, but did alter the invite just before the meeting. The original logo on the Facebook invitation was the Sobi Square logo, which she swapped for her own image, and she also removed the “points of interest” section.

Townsend, milling about in the lobby before the meeting, said that while some of the group might be in support of his Sobi Square venture, he wasn't involved in the event.

Before the public hearing on Townsend's proposed rezoning, At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries took some time to address factual errors in the invitation, which stated, among other things, "This rezoning has taken the council nearly one year to act on, because a half dozen neighbors objected to a 3-story LEED certified building on the corner of Sycamore and Ottawa." Plus, the “CAVE” reference.
Both were removed in the second version of the event invitation.

Shortly before the meeting began, word got out that one Council member had tried to put the kibosh on the whole event, because, ostensibly, the first invitation appeared to be an attempt to flood the floor with support for Townsend, the snow removal ordinance and Quinney's efforts to crack down on the regulars.

That's exactly the impression Yorko didn't want to leave, which is why she altered the invitations, she said, conceding that the term "CAVE people" was perhaps a bit harsh.

Vice-President A'Lynne Robinson, however, thought it was all kosher, so long as it was really about "bringing people together" and opening a dialogue.

"Let there be refreshments," she said with a smile, making sure a table and red tablecloth were provided for the contingent.

Yorko said the group plans to make the positive party a regular event, and hopefully incorporate some suggestions from the idea box.