East Lansing’s new mayor, Aaron Stephens, got off to a good start as the city’s top dog by showing the kind of courageous leadership we’d love to see in more of our region’s elected officials. Rather than simply deferring to the state and local health departments, Mayor Stephens issued an emergency order of his own that requires masks to be worn both indoors and outdoors in the city’s downtown business district. A week later, the East Lansing City Council affirmed and extended the mayor’s decree. It’s a smart move at a time when East Lansing is bracing for the return of at least some MSU students and the likelihood that they will set off a surge in COVID-19 infections. Keep up the good work, Mayor Stephens.
What took so long?
We were pleased and frankly a little shocked to see the East Lansing City Council appoint two highly qualified African Americans to fill the vacancies created by the unexpected resignations of former Council members Mark Meadows and Ruth Baier, both of whom are white. Ron Bacon and Dana Watson become the first Black city residents to serve on the Council in a half century. We have to ask: What took so long? It’s not as though there are no Black people in East Lansing. Bacon and Watson are both deeply engaged in their community and bring a fresh perspective to the Council. We look forward to their contributions and hope they will run for full terms at the next city election.
The Good: Schor scores BWL budget help
The City of Lansing’s financial struggles will be a bit less taxing thanks to an agreement inked in June between the city and the Lansing Board of Water & Light that increases the utility’s return on equity payment to the city for the next two fiscal years. Mayor Schor deserves credit for negotiating the deal, which will enhance the city’s bottom line by nearly $2 million in Fiscal Year 2021, which started July 1, and again in Fiscal Year 2022. The extra cash will help cushion the blow of COVID-related financial distress that is expected to wreak havoc on the city budget over the next few years. The agreement includes a provision that will bring the city even more money if the BWL sees unexpected growth in revenues derived from water, steam and energy sales.
The Bad: Racial equity gag order unwise
We were disappointed to learn that Mayor Schor is asking the members of his new Racial Justice and Equity Alliance to sign a confidentiality agreement that would prohibit them from publicly discussing matters under consideration by the group. We understand the argument that secrecy enables more candid conversation, but it’s not a good look for city government. Although the alliance is not technically covered by the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, secretly deliberating on some of the most vital and contentious issues facing the community only serves to amplify the mistrust that already permeates the relationship between city government and racial justice advocacy groups. Transparency matters now more than ever. Allowing the public to see and participate in the proceedings builds the trust and buy-in that are essential to healing wounds and moving forward together as a community. We encourage Mayor Schor to abandon the confidentiality agreements.
The Ugly: Overnight parking permits flop
After struggling for months to devise a sensible plan to regulate overnight parking in Lansing, the City Council created a permit system that would allow city residents to purchase an overnight parking pass. Fewer than six months after the new permit system was implemented, the city is now considering scrapping it altogether and moving to lift the longstanding prohibition on 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnight parking on city streets. We support lifting the parking ban, but we also recognize that it will be more difficult to clean up after a major snow storm due to vehicles left overnight on city streets. To make it work, the city will have to be more forceful in asking residents to remove cars from the street to facilitate overnight plowing and ramp up ticketing and towing of vehicles that interfere with plowing operations. The city’s flipping and flopping on this issue highlights yet again the lack of decisive leadership that continues to bedevil the mayor and Council. We also hope the repeal of the parking permit system comes with a refund for those who purchased the soon-to-be-useless permits at $125 a pop. We suggest a full refund as a goodwill gesture to those citizens who wasted their time doing their part.
Cover Your Damn Nose
OK, people, this isn’t hard. When wearing a mask, cover your damn nose. Research indicates that 90 percent of your breathing volume passes through the two nostrils located immediately north of your mouth. Wearing a mask that only covers your piehole is like wearing no mask at all. While we’re at it, if you’re a fan of masks with outflow vents that make exhaling easier, you’re also part of the problem. Such vents are typically unfiltered and allow the pathogens in your breath to escape into the wild, which defeats the major purpose of wearing a mask in the first place. The sooner we all start following the rules, the faster we will get COVID under control and return to some semblance of normalcy.