On Nov. 12, City Council member Ruth Beier was unanimously voted mayor by East Lansing’s City Council. The State News sat down with Beier, who has served on the council since 2013, to talk about her plans for the city and how the council will work with students.
Even though you have only been in office for a few weeks, how has the term gone so far?
Surprisingly well, one of my goals is to make sure all council people feel equal and I thought that would be sort of complicated but it’s not. It’s worked out very well.
What are some of your current short term goals as Mayor? Do you have anything you are trying to achieve within the next few months?
Yes, I want to get down in black and white exactly what we want on the Valley Court Park area, the Evergreen properties, because we’re having a request for a poll to go out and I don’t want it to be confusing. I want anybody that applies for that development to understand what we want ... I’m certain that not any one of us will get exactly what we want, but I think the five of us can come to a consensus on something that we think is best for that area. I also want to start talking about alternatives to dealing with the $5 million debt on that property.
Do you have any long-term goals?
What I’d like to do is move our development focus away from more expensive student housing, which is what we’ve done toward other things in the downtown and actually all of East Lansing. So, we’re gonna have a couple of marijuana dispensaries, that’s new, I don’t like it but at least it’s different. In the downtown I really want to see an office building and I really want to see something related to tech downtown because I want to attract people back to East Lansing.
Tied to that ... I want to repair and rebuild our relationship with MSU because I don’t know how well known this was but the previous president was really not interested in the city. So, I never could figure why, it might be because the mayorship turned over so much which is legitimate ... If we make it clear that we’re going to stop building student housing next to campus and one of the reasons I think is we’re starting to hurt MSU’s housing because these are like dorms but they’re nicer, so if we do that and we work on all the issues that MSU and East Lansing have together that we can build a relationship and MSU can come across the street more. So, I know they need housing for some of the (Facility for Rare Isotope Beams) people. They need housing for visiting professors and we’ve got a lot of housing right now. So that would be excellent if we can get tied into that somehow I think it would make both the university and the city stronger.
Do any of your plans or goals have an impact on students?
We deal with students, we have been dealing with students and trying to make things better for them ever since I was on council and I think we continue to do that. The thing that was most important to me then and still is to make sure the rentals are all safe. At one point, we tried to get the landlords to push back the rental period so that everybody didn’t have to scramble for money a month after they got here and there was just no way to do that, we failed at that. So, what I’m focused on after that is to make sure the place a student lives is safe and we do that with pretty rigorous inspections and immediate response if anybody calls.
Given sexual assault scandals involving Michigan State officials, do you think it is important for the city to intervene at any point?
I think that anything that happens in East Lansing we deal with immediately and things that happen on campus we are not allowed to deal with. So, it would be very hard to intervene, but I don’t wanna say that we never should.
We have a pretty female-centered council now and I think that’s good. ... If I personally ... or the council knew of anything that was happening on campus that was atrocious or even any kind of sexual harassment, we would certainly do something. I don’t know what we could legally do but we could definitely stomp over there and say, ‘What the heck?’
Is there anything you are excited about or looking forward to as Mayor?
I’m looking forward to finally having enough money to do what we need to do. We don’t have a lot, but the income tax gives us enough money to start, this is gonna sound really boring, to start replacing sewers and roads. Now that might not excite the average person, but it excites me and starting to make a future plan for all of our capital.
Is there anything you think students should know about you?
Well, when I was an undergraduate, I was not interested in city government at all, and as you’ve seen with Nathan Triplett and Aaron Stephens, if you have any interest at all, city government is a good place to start your political career. I mean, you can learn a lot and there are a lot of ways to do it. So, not so much about me, but if students are interested in being on our boards and commissions or even running for office, I would really like them to look at that and put their applications in and get to work because they’re half of our population and we have maybe three on our commissions and they’re open to everybody.