Opinion

The CP Edit: Transparency Fail

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Transparency fail 

When the Lansing Fire Department’s first female battalion chief, Shawn Deprez, went public with accusations that she was sexually assaulted and continuously harassed while employed at the department, this newspaper filed a public records request asking the city for documents related to its investigation of her allegations. Our request was delayed for six months. Frustrated, we asked Mayor Andy Schor to intervene, which resulted in the city finally coughing up just six pages out of roughly 650 documents that fell within the scope of our request. Following the process prescribed by Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, we appealed the decision to City Council President Adam Hussein, who last week refused to release the remaining documents. Hussein claimed their disclosure would impair the city’s ability to conduct investigations and have a “chilling effect” on frank communications between city officials. But the state’s sunshine law requires his decision to meet a balancing test: If the public interest in disclosing the documents outweighs the government’s interest in keeping them secret, the law says the documents must be released. We think Hussein struck the wrong balance. We’re not alone in believing that credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment at our city’s Fire Department are worthy of the highest level of public interest, thus tipping the scales toward disclosure. 

Schor’s secret SOTC 

For the past 20 years or more, the mayor’s annual State of the City address was a significant public event, staged at a prominent location in the city, promoted for weeks if not months in advance, broadcast on television, and attended by hundreds. COVID-19 changed all that. Indoor events were largely verboten during the pandemic, and understandably so. But that shouldn’t have stopped Mayor Andy Schor from making more of this year’s address. Instead, for reasons known only to the mayor and his advisers, the event wasn’t even announced until a surprise videotaped address was posted to YouTube in the late afternoon last week. The mayor’s low-key approach to what is supposed to be his annual showcase celebrating Lansing’s progress was a missed opportunity — a blunder to some — that tells us the mayor still isn’t getting the thoughtful advice about how to promote his administration that both he and the city deserve. 

Jack and Sue Davis Center for the Performing Arts 

Mayor Schor had plenty of good news to tout in his speech, from GM’s $2.5 billion investment in a new electric battery plant to building a new performing arts center in downtown Lansing. But one thing he said sticks in our craw: Schor’s off-hand assertion that the new outdoor amphitheater at the Red Cedar development will be named after the late Jack Davis. Last month, in this space, we suggested that the new downtown performing arts center — tentatively dubbed The Ovation — should instead carry the name of the city’s legendary patron of the arts and his wife, Susan. We’re going to keep beating the drum to make that honor happen. And we have a better idea for naming the Red Cedar amphitheater, a small outdoor venue tucked away in the public park behind the phalanx of new buildings along Michigan Avenue. Let’s give that honor to the man whose vision and persistence over several decades finally brought to fruition the massive Red Cedar environmental protection project: Ingham County Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann.  

Federal earmarks are back 

After a long hiatus, earmarks are back on the agenda in the U.S. Congress. Often maligned as pork-barrel spending, earmarks are a way for members of Congress to bring home the bacon for their districts by securing federal funds for local projects that would otherwise struggle to get done. Thanks to outstanding work by U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and second-term U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Mid-Michigan is a major beneficiary of the revitalized earmark program, scoring more than $24 million in federal aid for 10 public projects scattered across the region. Slotkin’s work in landing nearly half the total amount is especially impressive because she is a relative newcomer to Congress. The earmarks include $8.2 million for an expanded cargo ramp at Capital Region International Airport, $3.4 million to Clinton/Eaton Ingham Community Mental Health for a crisis stabilization unit, $1.4 million to the Lansing Police Department for a crisis assessment team, and $1 million for much-needed improvements to the Michigan Avenue Corridor. Kudos to our federal elected officials for bringing some of our tax dollars back to Greater Lansing for worthy investments that will strengthen our economy and community. 

#standwithukraine 

Like so many people across the globe, our hearts are breaking over the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, where millions of innocent people are being forced to abandon their homes and flee to the safety of surrounding nations, while millions more stay behind, trapped in an escalating conflict that gets more frightening by the hour. It’s frustrating to watch from afar as Putin carries out his deranged fantasy of taking by force whatever he wants from neighboring sovereign nations, and it makes us wonder what we can do to help the Ukrainian people. We’re making a donation to one of the reputable international charities providing humanitarian aid to the Ukraine and recommend that you do, too. Thanks to the miracle of global online commerce, you can donate directly to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society at redcross.org.ua/en/, among many other worthy organizations. 

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