We were frankly floored by last week’s unanimous City Council vote (with one member absent) to refer an unfounded ethics complaint against Mayor Andy Schor to an external firm for further investigation. The complaint, made by anti-Schor political activist Erica Lynn, claimed that the mayor’s recent fundraising activities violated the city’s ethics rules, in particular by sending an email appeal seeking donations to help elect his favored City Council candidates. The city attorney reviewed the matter and determined that Schor’s actions did not break any rules.
Let’s be clear: Andy Schor, like every mayor before him, has the right to participate in the politics and elections of the city, provided he doesn’t use city resources in the process. That his email solicitation ended up in several official city inboxes was an avoidable error by his campaign team, but it doesn’t appear to be an improper use of city resources, so long as the solicitation itself wasn’t sent using the city’s email system. Schor’s message also included a well-known Lansing brand that depicts the iconic trio of BWL smokestacks (a logo that Schor was using before the city adopted it). That probably wasn’t the best idea, either, but the city attorney determined it’s not a violation of the ethics ordinance.
Most if not all of the Council members are well aware that mayors, along with elected officials at every other level of government, commonly use the power of their position to shape the political environment around them, including actively campaigning for their political allies — and against their enemies. Schor’s actions should come as no surprise to anyone, especially the more seasoned Council members, some of whom have directly benefited from mayoral support in their past campaigns. That they would vote to spend taxpayer funds on an external review of this trifling and erroneous complaint boggles the mind and casts a cloud over their collective motives. Ironically, they appear to be making Mayor Schor’s point: with friends like these, it might be time to support new candidates who are better aligned with his vision and agenda for the city.
In defense of the Council’s action, At-Large Council Member Patricia Spitzley told City Pulse she proposed the resolution because the Council had previously handled the ethics complaints against Council Member Jeffrey Brown in the same fashion. Fair is fair, she says. In this case, we disagree because the two cases are apples and oranges. The complaints against Brown included credible allegations of ethical misconduct that warranted additional scrutiny by an outside investigator. The complaint against Schor is plainly political and devoid of merit. It should have been dismissed by a City Council that unfortunately seems to have only a passing interest in maintaining a positive working relationship with the mayor.
Speaking of the Lansing City Council, we had high hopes for First Ward newcomer Ryan Kost, who was narrowly elected last year to a one-year, partial term representing the city’s east side. Kost appeared to offer a fresh, boots-on-the-ground view of neighborhood issues, a genuine commitment to listening to his constituents, and a strong work ethic. That’s why we are especially disappointed to discover he also has a marginal relationship with the truth.
When recently asked by this paper (and the LSJ) about a 13-year-old court debt, Kost denied knowing anything about it. Turns out he knows plenty about it and admitted as much when confronted with court records disproving his claims of ignorance. It isn’t the first time a public official has lied, nor will it be the last, but we think it’s important for voters to consider the character of their elected representatives when they return an absentee ballot or go to the polls next Tuesday to make their choices in the city’s primary election.
Now for some good news. As reported first in these pages, Chicago-based developer J. Paul Beitler is back in the game. Almost six years ago, Beitler was the landslide winner of former Mayor Virg Bernero’s contest to see who could put forth the most compelling plan for repurposing the current City Hall and elsewhere developing a new home for Lansing’s municipal government. Beitler’s proposal was genius — he would preserve the aging but salvageable mid-century structure and transform it into a new downtown hotel with a rooftop restaurant overlooking the State Capitol. Rather than buying the property from the city, Beitler offered a 99-year ground lease that would cover the cost of renovating the former headquarters of the Lansing State Journal into a new City Hall. It was a grand plan — and a sweet deal for the city.
Schor shelved the Beitler plan shortly after taking office in 2018, arguing that it didn’t solve the problem of rehousing 54-A District Court and the city lockup, but that’s not the end of the story. Having secured voter approval last fall for a mammoth bond proposal that will finance the construction of a new public safety complex, Schor’s path to a new City Hall became that much clearer. He scored yet another coup this year by landing a whopping $40 million for the City Hall project from the Michigan Legislature.
The state cash is a game changer because it allows Schor to consider more options for a new City Hall, including a new building rather than repurposing an existing structure. The mayor recently told City Pulse that he plans to move forward with the Beitler proposal for the old City Hall, but he left the door open on plans for a new City Hall. Whatever else happens, our hope and expectation is that Schor will choose a new location within the central downtown district. The last thing a resurgent Washington Square needs is to lose the patronage of hundreds more downtown workers.
The biggest threat to moving the project forward in a timely way may well be the City Council’s apparently newfound animosity toward Mayor Schor. We will be sorely disappointed if Council members choose to play the role of obstructionists, rather than working in good faith with the mayor’s administration to get the long-overdue City Hall project underway.
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