March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Council members vote down a donation; inaction on land-sale proposals

Tuesday, Aug. 16 — A seemingly harmless late item added to the City Council’s agenda Monday turned into a heated debate and a failed resolution to allow a Council member to donate money to a local community group.

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries wanted to donate $1,000 from his “Office Holder Expenditure Account” to the Southside Community Coalition for a “number of activities” and a fundraiser later this month.

In fiscal years past, the Council had a “community funding” line item in the general fund and members each had personal expenditure accounts. The Council has never had to approve a resolution for each member’s donation, but rather for donations that came from the full Council’s community funding account.

But this year, the community funding line item was eliminated due to “budget constraints,” Council President A’Lynne Robinson said. She added that the full Council’s community funding was usually budgeted for roughly $20,000, and $2,000 for each member’s individual accounts. Council members still have personal expense accounts, which increased to $2,500 for ward representatives and $3,000 for At-Large representatives, she said.

So now, if a member wants to donate money, he or she needs to deposit it in the general fund before it’s donated. That deposit, based on advice from the City Attorney’s Office, would need a resolution approved by Council to do so.

The scenario played out for the first time Monday and resulted in the Council voting down the resolution 4-2, with Robinson and At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney voting no. But it wasn’t because they were against the donation; they were against the process and potentially setting precedent. Council members Kathie Dunbar and Jessica Yorko were absent.

“I have absolutely no problem supporting the Southside Community Coalition,” Robinson said. “It’s the process and setting a process we cannot sustain.”

Jeffries just wanted the resolution passed, as some of the community coalition’s ongoing activities depend on it.

“I didn’t want to go through this process and I don’t know why I have to. Now that I’ve gone through the process I would like it approved,” Jeffries said. “This has gotten 100 percent more vetting than any other expenditure from (personal) Council (accounts).”

As Quinney stated his concerns about “how do we allow this one to go through and turn and question other (donations) that go through,” Jeffries became agitated.

“This is just unbelievable, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Jeffries said. “How in the heck did this make it out there if there’s all this concern in the first place? I don’t understand the pushback on this.”

Quinney asked Smith if the Council would be setting a precedent if the resolution was approved, that this would be the process each time a Council member sought to donate to the community.

“I would suggest this is not precedence for everybody,” Smith said.

Smith agreed to Robinson’s request to establish a “process” for future donation matters.

In other business, the Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that regulates floodplain management in the city and adopts new floodplain maps established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Jeffries said by doing so, any construction that occurs within designated floodplain areas will comply with the state Construction Act. The guidelines in the ordinance also allow residents in those areas discounted flood insurance.

The Council also unanimously approved two resolutions granting nonprofit status to the Historical Society of Greater Lansing and the Lansing Educational Advancement Foundation. Each are seeking to hold charitable gaming events.

Following the Council’s two-hour regular meeting, the Committee of the Whole revisited the land-sale proposals set forth by the administration for the former Waverly and Red Cedar golf courses. However, the Council didn’t vote to move forward on the proposals because Dunbar, Yorko and Hewitt were absent (Hewitt attended the Council meeting but left before Committee of the Whole).

Robinson said the proposals will be on the Council agenda next week, which would require a special Committee of the Whole meeting, and committee approval, before then. “I anticipate conducting the (Council) vote next week or Aug. 29,” she said.

For more on what the administration and Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann propose for Red Cedar, see here.