WEDNESDAY, Nov. 8 — For the first time since the City Charter was created in 1978, voters yesterday narrowly approved creating a commission to review it for possible changes.
“I’d hoped people would vote no,” Mayor Andy Schor said this morning. “We probably should have done a better job of explaining the cost and things.”
The measure passed by 51.6% to 48.40% on a vote of 7,208 in favor to 6,762 opposed, according to unofficial results reported by the Ingham County Clerk’s Office.
In other city results, former Councilwoman Jody Washington lost her bid for an at-large seat.
Voters elected two newcomers, Tamera Carter by 34.26% and Trini Lopez Pehlivanoglu by 33.31%, to two at-large openings. They will serve four-year terms beginning Jan. 1. Washington came in third at 24.31%. Missy Lilje was fourth at 8.11%.
They will replace Carol Wood and Patricia Spitzley, who are retiring.
Incumbents Adam Hussain and Ryan Kost easily retained their seats. Hussain beat King. L. Robertson in the 3rd Ward, 74.54% to 24.46%. Kost beat Michael VandeGuchte, 76.8% to 23.2%. Both were elected to four-year terms.
The City Charter revision process will be expensive, according to the Schor administration.
Voters will choose nine Lansing citizens to serve on a Charter Revision Commission in a special election next year.
City Clerk Chris Swope said today that it’s up in the air when the election of commissioners will occur because of a conflict between the state’s Home Rule City Act and Michigan election law.
He said the Home Rule City Act says the commission will be elected within 60 days of yesterday’s vote. But Michigan election law says elections can only take place in May, August and November or on the presidential primary date in presidential years, which next year will be.
He said there is a “long and winding road ahead beginning with navigating the election date conflict between the Home Rule City Act and the Michigan election law.
“It’s not completely clear what changes voters want, though the campaign for charter commissioners may provide some insight,” he added.
Those commissioners will put the charter under a microscope and recommend a new charter, which would be submitted to voters. If it’s rejected, the commission can disband. But it can also try again up to three more times. It must complete its work in three years.
The Schor administration said in October that if voters approve the ballot referendum, the special election would cost close to $150,000 — and that’s just the beginning.
The administration also said it will be asking the City Council for a special appropriation of $500,000 for the “initial costs” — record-taking and -keeping services, consultants, commissioner salaries, drafting expenses and so on. The city said it estimates the cost, adjusted for inflation, from what it cost in 1978 to create the current charter. And, the city says, it could cost more.
The charter requires voters to be asked every 12 years if they want the charter reviewed. This is the first time since its 1978 creation that voters have said yes. There have been a handful of voter-approved revisions on single issues. The last time voters decided on a general review was in 2011, when they rejected it by 65%.
Schor’s opposition was partially based on the cost. He said today he didn’t think voters understood how expensive it will be. “We probably should have done a better job of explaining the costs and things,” he said.
“We didn't run a funded vote no campaign. It wasn't something I had time to focus on. It's been defeated in the past because people usually just vote no if they don't understand something. But in this case, I think there are a lot of people who thought, 'Well, maybe we should look at the charter.'"
If you look at the language, it just says, "Shall the city of Lansing have a charter review commission?" So, I think people thought, "What harm is there in reviewing?" he added.
Schor said a “few people” advocated passage because they support switching to a city manager style of government and away from the strong mayor system, which requires changing the charter.
Asked if saw that as opposition to his leadership, he said, “I do think they're the same people who do not support me. There were, what, 15,000 votes? So, I guess if anyone can impact a few hundred votes, then they have an impact.”
But, he said, “I think there are a lot of people out there who don't want that, but we'll see.”
Besides cost, Schor expressed concern about the Pandora’s box that a review could open.
“There's so many more things that can happen in a charter review and charter changes. There's a lot of things in there on elections. We can change wards versus at-large for Council. You can change the numbers. You can change the power of the mayor. You can change the power of the Council, the power of the clerk. We have boards and commissions that are in there. We have the Board of Water & Light.
“I think there are single-issue people that would like to do things. Again, you could get rid of any of the marijuana stuff. There are a lot of things that could be pushed, but I think that there certainly will be single-issue advocates that will push for their single issue to be addressed by the commission. But I think that it won't just be one, it'll be many,” Schor said.
“It's like writing a new constitution.”
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