Kids in the Hall

By Neal McNamara

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt encountered an advertising snafu last week. When the Eastside Neighborhood Organization’s seasonal newspaper came out, appearing in the centerfold in front of an American flag was Hewitt, with the message “Re-elect Eric Hewitt.” The problem is, Hewitt is not up for election until 2011.

The other problem is, Hewitt paid for the ad out of his City Council discretionary account, which, if he were running for reelection, would be a campaign finance no-no.

The advertisement cost $225, which Hewitt says he has repaid to the city.

Hewitt said that the copy that appeared in his ad (the ENO newspaper is produced by the Lansing State Journal) was not what he approved — he intended it to be an ad for his “first contact” meeting, which allows residents to come out and meet him every first Saturday of the month.

In case you’re wondering, City Council, sometimes as a group, sometimes individually, does often take out advertisements in neighborhood group newsletters and other community media using discretionary funds. The entire Council, for example, took out a full-page black and white ad in the same ENO newspaper.

Each City Council member is given a “discretionary” pot of $2,000 each year.

Last Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting got a little nuts. The Council was discussing the city’s allotment of PEG (public, educational, and governmental) fees that Comcast pays the city to use its rights of way to deliver us our Comedy Central and high-speed Internet stock tips. Gary Andrews, a
longtime user of cable access programming, which PEG funds can support,
was at Council to query how the city is using its PEG funds; in the
middle of his explaining to Council the saga of Lansing cable access,
Council President Derrick Quinney asked him to speed things up.
Andrews was upset by this, and it eventually led to Council trying to
move on from the discussion, which caused Council regular John Pollard to
explode in anger because he was told he would have time to speak on the
issue. Pollard yelled at the Council for an extended amount of time, at
one point calling Quinney “Afghanistan” (might have been
“AfQuinneystan,” though). Eventually, Lansing Police Capt. Ray Hall, Capt. Teresa Szymanski and spokesman Noel Garcia came up to Council Chambers to try and quiet the situation. Pollard left without incident after being provided documents about the PEG funds.

But that wasn’t the only thing of interest. Quietly, at the end of CoW, Finance Director Jerry Ambrose reported
to Council that the administration had sent out a letter to city
employees notifying them of the opportunity to take “voluntary unpaid
leave” time. Meaning, the city is offering furlough days, although just voluntary at this point.

The city is in a deficit situation to the tune of about $1.8 million, the result of shortfalls in revenue projections from the 2009 budget year, which ended June 30. Ambrose said that the administration will soon forward a deficit elimination plan to Council, and, ominously, that “everything is on the table” as far as closing the deficit.

Monday’s Council meeting was exciting, too (though there were no pre-election outbursts). Marcus Brown received
approval from Council to use a house he owns at 119 E. Barnes Ave. as a
community center — Brown had previously been asked to stop his
community center activities at the house until he passed city
inspections, and got this approval from Council.

Also, the corridor improvement authorities for Michigan Avenue and Saginaw Street were
approved. The CIAs aim to spur economic development on these boulevards
that cross through different municipalities, and may include a tax increment-financing district.