Stage set for Lansing Charter Revision Commission election

36 candidates vying for nine spots on Tuesday


The 36 candidates for Lansing’s Charter Revision Commission have expressed divergent views on significant changes they would tackle if chosen in next Tuesday’s special election.

Some differ on the executive powers granted under the existing strong-mayor system, with a potential shift toward a professional city manager format emerging as an alternative.

They’ve also offered contrasting takes on the ideal size of the City Council, while a few have withheld any firm stances whatsoever in favor of keeping an open mind.

Lansing voters will choose nine next Tuesday to serve on the first-ever review panel, vested with the authority to propose changes to the document that has determined the city’s operating rules since its adoption in 1978.

The process was initiated in November when 51.61% of voters chose to open the city charter. The question has been on the ballot every 12 years since 1978, but it had never come close to passing before. In 2011, 65% of voters opposed it. 

Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m. City Clerk Chris Swope said 11,000 of 17,000 absentee ballots his office sent out beginning in late March have not been returned by mail or in person as of Monday. With the election so close, voters are urged to drop off absentee ballots in person at the city’s Reo Elections Office, 1221 Reo Road; one of the city’s 14 drop boxes; one of the early voting sites that will operate 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekend; or at polling places. More information is available at

The commissioners elected next week will hold their first meeting May 21. From there, members can meet 90 times over up to three years to draft a revised charter proposal. They will elect officers, set the body’s rules and procedures, hire legal and professional consultants, form subcommittees, and appoint members in the event of a vacancy.

A majority of the commission can send a proposed revised charter to the governor. If the governor approves, voters have the last say. If not, commissioners can choose to disband or try again twice more, so long as they do so within the three-year, 90-meeting window. If voters disapprove, the commission can try again twice.

The process is expected to cost at least an estimated $500,000, which the Schor administration based on the cost of producing the original charter 46 years ago, adjusted for inflation.

The most significant cost is an estimated $200,000 in “clerk expenses,” such as legal consultation and election administration. To date, $23,806 has been spent on the latter.

The next biggest expense is $200 a day per commissioner for up to 90 meetings, which translates into $162,000.

The remaining $138,000 out of the estimated half million is split among administrative expenses, such as stenography, office supplies, postage, printing and publishing the proposed revisions.

The most optimistic expense may be a $10,000 “contingency” fund. City spokesperson Scott Bean said the number “could likely shift for next year” because “they’re going to go through a half a million really fast.”

According to campaign statements, the revision period could encompass a wide range of alterations to the city’s executive branch, the makeup of the City Council and the process for naming members of boards and commissions.

It could also take the form of minor changes intended to modernize the document, including using more inclusive language or addressing contemporary concerns.

The most significant change could come if the commission explores the merits of weakening or strengthening mayoral duties, such as appointing department heads and other city positions and exercising veto powers.

Commissioners could suggest moving away from an elected strong-mayor system in favor of a city manager, such as in East Lansing, whose Council selects a member to serve as mayor and employs a city manager to run the city’s operations and staffing.

Seven candidates are on record supporting the strong-mayor format. Few, if any, have indicated a firm preference for a city manager. However, a handful have proposed a hybrid system in which both would share powers to be determined by the commission.

Another major shift could come through altering the composition of the City Council. The Council features four ward-based representatives and four more at-large seats.

More than half the field has advocated a nine-member Council, but the candidates have differed on how to reach that number. Some candidates discussed adding a member to discourage deadlock and eliminating some or all at-large positions to add more wards to the mix.

At one end, a few have suggested eliminating at-large seats in favor of wards, citing greater representation and expedited communication between members and the neighborhoods they represent.

Others have proposed adding more at-large seats or, at the very least, electing the potential ninth seat via an at-large race.

Most lie somewhere in the middle, however, with many open to adding one to three wards. At least five candidates prefer to keep the Council’s existing makeup.

Regarding boards and commissions, the mayor nominates them to the Council, which decides. Among the ideas that emerged during the campaign is requiring the mayor to share the authority to nominate with the Council in some fashion or widen the vetting process.

A few candidates have also proposed or supported some lesser-discussed changes, including a provision that would require the city to hold its elections on even years, add sexual orientation as a protected class, create additional departments, boards and commissions, implement diversity, equity and inclusion, bring tenants’ rights considerations into the charter’s language and make the city attorney an elected position rather than one that’s determined through a mayoral appointment.

One issue that has yet to be aired in the campaign is whether the process will likely be worth the expense. The charter has been amended seven times through elections: in 1993, 1994, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2022. Examples of previous amendments include decriminalizing marijuana in the city and adjusting the terms of specific employee contracts.

Costs were small: a little more ink on ballots.


What do candidates for the Lansing Charter Revision Commission specifically want to do if elected? We posed that question to all of them. Click here to see what those who answered have to say.

See all of our Lansing Charter Commission election coverage here.


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