June 23 2010 12:00 AM

Meager Lansing Council grinds to halt over vote; appointees, budget amendment left hanging for a while

A Monday night Lansing City Council meeting was delayed for almost an hour because of continuing tensions over a format of holding meetings that was put into place in January by President A’Lynne Robinson.

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries told his colleagues that he would not vote for the Council to resolve into a Committee of the Whole meeting unless there was a discussion on reintroducing public comment to the CoW meeting. Under the new format, public comment at CoW was removed because the public has a chance to comment at the extremely abridged regular meeting that precedes a Monday night CoW.

Jeffries’ vote was needed to move into CoW because three Council members were absent — Vice President Kathie Dunbar, and First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood. Wood and Hewitt, along with Jeffries, have been unsupportive of the Monday night CoW format because of the public comment issue and that they contend it delays city business.

But instead of a discussion on bringing public comment back to CoW, Council voted to recess the meeting until Dunbar — who was at a conference at Michigan State University — could make it to the meeting. She arrived around 8:30 p.m. Jeffries voted in favor of the recess, but left the meeting after the vote.

On Monday’s CoW agenda was a slew of appointments to boards and commissions. Those appointments were delayed from Council’s June 7 meeting in a similar situation to Monday night. On June 7, Wood said she could not vote for the appointments unless the checks for qualifications done by Mayor Virg Bernero’s administration were provided to Council. At that meeting, Robinson, Jeffries and Hewitt were absent — so, Wood’s vote was needed.

After Dunbar arrived Monday night, the Council meeting went according to plan. Robinson spoke sternly about how all the appointees had been properly vetted, and seemed to direct her comments to her colleagues who were absent from the meeting. All the appointments were approved, except one held at Dunbar’s request because the person, Katie John, was not at the meeting to be interviewed.

Also discussed Monday night was a change to the resolution passed a couple of weeks ago approving the city’s application for a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (section 108) loan for the renovation of the Knapp’s building. The resolution that was passed, reported Lansing Economic Development Corp. President Bob Trezise, stated an incorrect loan amount of $4.3 million. The actual amount is $5.4 million. The loan application has to be submitted to HUD by July 6.

There was also discussion on a fiscal year-end budget amendment from the administration to fix a shortfall in revenue. Included in that is a misjudgment by the city that it could use $430,000 in drug forfeiture money to fund Lansing Police special operations and a $600,000 shortfall in the building safety fund. Also, revenues from taxes was less than expected. The city will use $3.4 million from its reserves to stem the shortfall.

The city’s reserves, in part, contribute to the city’s credit rating, which has been touted as being AA . Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton questioned budget manager Angela Bennett whether using reserves would hurt that rating. Bennett said, “It obviously does put us at risk, but I don’t have an answer.” Bennett explained that a lot of cities are using reserves for budget gaps, and that it’s important that Lansing waited to use reserves until an emergency — which is what the reserves are for.

Also on Monday night, the Council was forwarded a request by Michigan State University Financial Credit Union for several tax incentives for its new location in downtown Lansing at the site of the former Dimitri’s Restaurant. The credit union is asking for an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation incentive, which can freeze property taxes for up to 12 years. An inspection found rotting floor joists, water damage and that the building does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also found that heating and electrical systems need to be replaced.

The credit union is also looking for an exemption on new personal property taxes. The city taxes businesses for pieces of machinery.