By Neal McNamara

Boards, commissions, tax incentives and zoning changes

The tumult over appointments to city boards and commission reared its head again on Monday night at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting as a Councilwoman would not vote to approve a slew of administration appointees because Council was not provided proof that they were qualified under the City Charter.

The only business during the Council Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night was the appointment of five new people to various boards, and the reappointment of 17 people who are already serving.

When it came time to start making the appointments — many of the people set to be appointed had come down to Council for their swearing in — At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood pointed out that Council had not been provided with the proof showing that the people they were about to appoint were qualified. Back in March, after questions were raised about appointees because Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton served on the Parks Board while in default to the city (in defiance of the City Charter), administration officials said they would do a review of the over 100 appointees to make sure they were qualified. And that for all new appointees the city would check qualifications, where in the past the city had relied on the appointees to just be honest about their qualifications. Appointees must not owe taxes to the city, not have a felony in the past 20 years and be a registered voter in Lansing.

Wood said that she had told Council President A’Lynne Robinson some time ago that she wanted some kind of document to show that the appointees had been checked. Otherwise, she would not vote for their appointment. And since there were only five Council members at the CoW meeting, a no vote from Wood would mean that the appointments would not go through. (At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries left just before the discussion on appointments began.)

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who was acting president over the meeting because Robinson was absent, decided to just end the meeting instead of having Wood vote “no” and kill the appointments.

Jerry Ambrose, Mayor Virg Bernero’s chief of staff, tried to assure Council that the administration had checked all the appointees’ background. But Wood said she just wanted a sheet of paper that proved it. The city does have a form that’s used for interdepartmental approvals, like for a zoning change. Wood said that if Ambrose could provide proof of the checks on the appointees, she would vote for it. Ambrose said that was not available. So, At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney moved to adjourn the meeting, and it all ended.

The new appointees are Kelly Johnston and Kimberly Whitfield to the Board of Zoning Appeals, Maria Starr to the Memorial Review Board, Adam Hussain to the Parks Board and Alisande Henry to the Planning Board. Reappointments included Charles Mickens, Charlotte Sinadinos and James Butler III to the LEPFA board; Randall Kamm, Donald Heck and James Drake to the Building Board of Appeals; Joan Trezise and Ifield Joseph to the Capital Area District Library board; Peter Kuhnmuench and Robin Lewis to the CATA board; Kim Coleman, Baldomero Garcia and Gregory Ward to the Economic Development Corp. board; and Cassandra Nelson and Kara Wood to the Historic District Commission.

Earlier Monday night, during Council’s regular meeting, local developer Pat Gillespie’s project to redevelop the Marshall Street armory was given all necessary approvals for tax incentives and a zoning change.

Wood voted against the rezoning and the incentives (a brownfield plan, which allows Gillespie to be reimbursed through tax capture for environmental cleanup of the site, and an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation district, which freezes taxable value for up to 12 years; this is so major improvements don’t cost more because of a property value increase, thus higher taxes). Wood said that she was concerned about the rezoning because if the project didn’t go through, the neighborhood would be stuck with a parcel with inconsistent zoning, thus it could be made into something undesirable in the future. Wood was also concerned that businesses moving into a redeveloped armory — Gillespie wants to make it a hub for nonprofits — might leave other buildings in the city vacant.

Ken Szymusiak reported that the Michigan Economic Development Corp. had not made a decision on whether to allow the armory project to capture school taxes (part of the brownfield plan), and if it did not approve that, there could be a “project gap.” The EDC projects the project could bring in $4.5 million in investment.

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt, whose ward the armory is in, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

It was not just Wood protesting legislation. Dunbar voted against setting a public hearing for a change to the city’s retirement rules. The change in rules would prevent city employees who took a buyout this year from being reemployed by the city as a contract worker. The rules change would only affect employees that retired this year when the city offered retirement incentives as part of a budget deficit solution. Dunbar said she had spoken to employees working in the 911 call center, the information technology department and the city court who had concerns about the rules change.

Joining Dunbar in voting "no" was Houghton, Quinney, and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, killing the effort to have a public hearing.

Council passed a resolution memorializing 37-year former Councilwoman Lucille Belen, who died last week. Also, Stop signs were approved to be installed at the intersections of Waycross and Beechfield drives, Christiansen Road and Ferrol Street, Dadson and Meese drives and Vernson and Dadson drives.

Correction: An earlier version of this story should have stated that a public hearing on changing the city's retirement system was voted down.