Wednesday, Jan. 29 — An internal struggle among Lansing City Council members, the city attorney and the city clerk over a new seating arrangement at meetings has left one Councilwoman “disgusted” and at odds with the city attorney’s reading of the City Charter.
In a letter to Council members today, 1st Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington opens by saying she believes City Attorney Janene McIntyre does not have “the authority to give herself the authority to make seating arrangements.” She also cites recent cases — particularly last year when Councilwoman Carol Wood moved the mayor’s seat from the dais to the floor — in which McIntyre didn’t step in.
In Washington’s reading, the City Charter just requires the city attorney and the city clerk to attend meetings — “It doesn’t even address where they sit,” she writes. Overall, Washington is “disgusted that we are even having this conversation with all of the issues facing our city.”
She attempts to separate herself from what she sees as back-room deals, which she suggests is at the heart of the city attorney’s involvement.
“The rest of you can continue on this trail of lunacy if you like,” she writes. “If you think you have been elected to behave as though you think you’re gangsta with your special interest groups threatening people, or you think you have to do whatever another council member tells you to do because you are loyal to them, and all the rest of it, have at it. I will have no part of it. This butt chart is an incredible new low for us.”
(There are so many good quotes to pull from, you can read the full letter below.)
City Pulse reported in today’s edition about Council President A’Lynne Boles’ decision last week to change the seating arrangement on the Council. Boles said she wanted to sit closer to new Councilwoman and vice president Judi Brown Clarke. By doing so, City Clerk Chris Swope and McIntyre were moved to the ends of the dais. Other seats were shifted and the deputy city clerk was removed from the dais.
In an opinion, McIntyre wrote that since the City Charter does not specifically give the Council president authority to change the seating arrangement, that it’s up to the body as a whole to decide, which would require five votes. She also wrote that the city attorney and city clerk sat next to the Council president “for as long as memory serves.”
In an interview, McIntyre was in “disbelief” over the inordinate amount of time she’s spent researching the issue at the request of Swope and several Council members.
Swope said he doesn’t think Boles “made the right decision” by moving him, adding that there are practical reasons he prefers to sit next to the president.
Let’s see how this issue plays out at Thursday’s meeting. In the meantime, here’s Washington’s full letter to Council members, forwarded to City Pulse this morning:
The newest City Attorney “opinion” does not look like an opinion, it looks as though she has made a ruling. I don’t think the City Attorney has the authority to give herself the authority to make seating arrangements. If we go by past practice and precedence, then the president of council does have the authority to make seating arrangements. My seat has been changed a few times by the president of council. If she is saying that the president doesn’t have the authority, then she sat back for an entire year letting council go against the charter when Ms. Wood moved the mayor and the rest of us. Further, she put in writing that she thought the move was a great decision!
Also, the charter merely says that the City Attorney and the City Clerk are to attend the meetings. It doesn’t even address where they sit. The Clerk is only there to make a recording of the meeting. The charter does not address him doing anything more than recording the meetings. He can turn his tape recorder on from any seat in the chambers. This does not require a front and center seat. Maybe it’s high-time the president and vice-president run the meetings, and let the Clerk do his job of recording the meetings.
I can’t believe that we are waiting for things from the City Attorney’s office that she hasn’t been able to get back to us, but she has time to do not one, but two opinions on where people plunk their butts. It is clear that she changed her opinion to read that it must be the majority of council, as she knows where the votes are. Since this has become such a monumental issue, I think we need an outside opinion. The charter doesn’t address the issue; therefore, she can’t give herself the authority to determine seating issues. Further, if our legal department has time to worry about and write two opinions on where folks plunk their butts, perhaps we need to not use so much outside counsel. I see a cost savings here.
I am disgusted that we are even having this conversation with all of the issues facing our city. I was not amused with the caucus discussions surrounding this issue that were being held with the City Clerk, City Attorney, and some council members last Thursday. We are grown people, and we have grown people issues to deal with. I am convinced that this has nothing to do with where folks have their hind-ends, but is rather more about power plays.
We are a legislative body, not a pre-school day care. I am racking my brain trying to figure out what, if anything, of significance has been accomplished in the two years that I have been on council. I have witnessed more tantrums than I ever saw raising my children. I have seen constant bickering and power struggles over things that made no difference what-so-ever. I have seen two years of discussion about the Wood-Bernero block. I still don’t know what that is about. I have watched people be threatened with serious consequences if they don’t endorse the right person or vote for a particular person for president of council. I have witnessed backdoor deals that are simply disgusting. I have gotten calls telling mehow I should vote on this seating chart by folks that shouldn't even care, which I find unbelievable.
The rest of you can continue on this trail of lunacy if you like. If you think you have been elected to behave as though you think you’re gangsta with your special interest groups threatening people, or you think you have to do whatever another council member tells you to do because you are loyal to them, and all the rest of it, have at it. I will have no part of it. This butt chart is an incredible new low for us.
If you want to go by charter, then here it is, and let's go by it. Neither the City Attorney nor the City Clerk have any rights to even sit at the dais. The City Attorney does not have the right to determine where others sit. The City Clerk should do nothing more than make a recording of the meeting. The City Attorney is there for the sole purpose of answering any questions we may have. This is City Council, but it looks more like the Stooges.
I will have no more discussion regarding which seat I warm. I believe we have a lot of real work to do, and I am going forward to do the job that I was elected to do.