It was a chilly April day five years ago when I had a difficult choice: I could travel to my Hoosier homeland to make one last tearful visit to my grandparents’ home slated for demolition for a new road, or I could attend a Lansing park board meeting to try to save the beloved Scott Garden from the city’s destruction.
I longed to be with my family to say goodbye to my childhood memories. But my grandparents’ home was already doomed. I decided instead to try to spare Scott’s great-grandchildren those same tears. I spoke in support of the garden, along with scores of other residents and hundreds of petition signers. Sadly, the Scott family lost their childhood space despite the enormous public support and a viable alternative plan to save Scott Garden.
That was one of many fights I have lost against City Hall and the City Council in my 15-plus years as a Lansing neighborhood and community leader. But this one really hurt. It felt symbolic of problems plaguing City Hall for decades. It highlighted the blatant disregard for citizens. If citizens could not win on something as “trivial” as greenspace, how could we trust leaders on even more critical matters related to our health, safety, and livelihood? It once again caused us to question the motives of leaders and the influence of outside interests governing City Hall. And it added to the long list of the short-sided decisions made without regard for our history, our future or our children.
The system that is supposed to protect our people, our parks and our neighborhoods has all too often been an adversary. Citizens and employees have no recourse for complaints against the city under current ordinances. Power has been concentrated in the hands of the city attorney and mayor. Political appointees have replaced professional staffers of years past. Employees in all departments are vulnerable to compromising circumstances. Many departments operate within frameworks that treat groups of people or neighborhoods differently, intentionally or unintentionally.
Dysfunction is costly. It drives away potential businesses, talented employees and residents. We lose revenue and waste taxpayer dollars on government fines for mistakes. When we fail to properly invest in our neighborhoods, we see loss of property values and an increase in crime.
Dysfunction can also be deadly with poorly managed programs involving city-contracted home repairs, back-logged inspections and prison first-aid protocols. We must do better.
It is time for Lansing to have a more ethical and professional city government. My goal as mayor is to transition us to a “city manager” system, eliminating the “strong mayor” system as over 80% of cities in Michigan have done. The operation of the city would be handled by professionals with detailed knowledge of best practices rather than people driven by political goals. This will save money, improve services, reduce special interests’ influence and give neighborhoods more voice.
Meanwhile, I will clean up City Hall. My diverse incoming team will focus on customer service and maintain high ethical standards. We will institute financial transparency and prioritize community well-being, supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs, and organizing neighborhoods. We will promote long-term public safety and health of our residents and neighborhoods. This includes affordable housing, restorative justice, access to mental health services and conflict resolution to eliminate overuse of police services. We will fully engage with citizens from all walks of life, making it easier for everyone to participate in decision making and access city services. We will develop policies and solutions based on best practices and the input of those affected. Lansing deserves this fresh start.
I am from Goshen, Indiana — a small Mennonite-influenced community where service, stewardship and social justice are important values and where my family has resided and served for many generations. Lansing has been my adopted home since 1993. I attended Michigan State University, where I completed my Ph.D. in community psychology and met my husband, Sam Quon, who completed his master’s degree in urban planning. We chose to reside here to live out our commitment to urban development. We have two teenagers who have helped flyer neighborhoods since they were babies.
I have been a community, youth and economic development professional for over 25 years, primarily at MSU and now independently. I have helped communities across Michigan to improve local economic development opportunities, to create better community resources for children and to improve hands-on educational opportunities — especially for children with learning differences. I have worked on statewide policies related to mental health, welfare reform and health education with an aim of increasing resources and improving the lives of marginalized individuals and communities with their input. To learn more about me or to share your story, visit melissaforlansing.com. Confidential whistleblowers are welcomed.