Friday, October 15, 2021

East Lansing city council candidates discuss student issues at voter forum

October 13, 2021
<p>The five East Lansing City Council candidates running for four-year and two-year terms met at Wells Hall on Monday, Oct. 11, for a debate leading up to the election on Nov. 2, 2021.</p>

The five East Lansing City Council candidates running for four-year and two-year terms met at Wells Hall on Monday, Oct. 11, for a debate leading up to the election on Nov. 2, 2021.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, hosted a voter forum on Monday, Oct. 11. Candidates Ron Bacon and Mikey Manuel, who are running for two-year terms, took the stage first. Then, four-year term candidates, including Dana Watson, Chuck Grigsby, Daniel Bollman, Adam DeLay and George Brookover, took over. 

The debate focused on student retainment, housing and public safety.

Student retainment

Candidates were asked what they would do to encourage student retainment in East Lansing after graduation.

Both Bacon and Manuel said that a more student-accommodating economy would be beneficial to retain students after graduation.

“If we can get the ball rolling immediately, the more opportunities we can provide for you guys to stick around, the better for everybody, the better for our economy, the better for our growth, the stronger we'll be as a city,” Manuel said.

“Of course we want students to stay in East Lansing, but we want everyone else to stay in East Lansing,” Brookover said.

DeLay said that improving housing will help retain students.

“I think that we want to have a strategy in place that makes sure that students, when they graduate, if they want to stay here ... that they have the ability to do so,” DeLay said. “For those of you who live off campus, it's $1,000 at the minimum per month for you to be able to rent any of those apartment complexes downtown.”

Grigsby said that the city needs to create opportunities to incentivize students to stay in East Lansing after graduating, possibly through jobs that relate to student’s studies at MSU.

Watson said that in order to retain students, East Lansing needs to be a welcoming and diverse community with job opportunities for students.

Bollman also focused on housing.

“The city recently funded a housing study that has indicated that there’s some real desire to see something between that single family, detached, owner-occupied house and that high-rise, mid-rise, that we’ve seen,” Bollman said.

Bollman said that as an architect, he knows of ways that housing in East Lansing can be more inclusive without having an effect on the character of the neighborhoods. He said that these methods aren’t currently permitted under city zoning. 

“That's something that I'd like to see, just unclench a little bit and see if we can’t make room for some other people,” Bollman said.

The candidates encouraged greater participation from students in city matters.

“I want you to come to city council meetings, I want you to yell at me when I do something that you don't like,” DeLay said. “At the same time, I also want to be an advocate for you.”

Watson said that ASMSU was one of her favorite groups to communicate with during her time on city council.

“You all are really important, it's been exciting to see you all come back,” she said. "It's unfortunate when the summertime happens, and the students are gone again.”

Brookover said that he would like to see professors with student teams involved in research for the city.

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“I’m always intrigued when we go and hire some independent think tank at $50,000 or $75,000 a job to study something that we could probably make a few phone calls to a couple of departments at Michigan State University," Brookover said. "A couple of professors who would love to have 10 or 12 or 14 of (students) help him or help her on some kind of a study, probably not charging as much money at all, and have as good or a better result because you know the town, you’ve lived here."

On June 25, the East Lansing City Council passed an Ordinance 1500. It would prohibit landlords from entering rental units to show them to prospective future tenants for the first 150 days of a current tenant's leasing period. 

However, the ordinance cannot be enforced until Lansing and Meridian Township adopt similar ordinances. Candidates were asked how they felt about the ordinance, and about ordinances that affect students uniquely.

Manuel said that the issue needs to be approached from both perspectives, but that he probably would have voted for the ordinance if he was on council at the time.

Bacon said that he was not in support of the iteration of the ordinance that was put forward, but that it had potential.

“I think we'll have a new opportunity to look at it again, based on new market conditions and new development,” Bacon said. “I am in support of student housing and in support of students having access to fair housing ... but I'm also in support of the small business environment and making sure we're creating fairness in the region across the board.”

“There's nothing that I can think of, that we get access to about nine months after we signed on legally to do it,” Watson said. “To create this system where landlords are able to have students do this is detrimental to us trying to move in different types of people into the community.”

She also said that because of the instability of this housing situation, there is a large amount of “underground subleasing” occurring.

Bollman said that he was uncomfortable with the way that the ordinance was drafted, and that there needs to be more objective reasoning behind the ordinance.

Brookover said that he does not support the ordinance, and the city shouldn’t be creating special legislation to benefit or detriment a specific group, like students.  

“I’m not even sure it’s legal, or constitutional in Michigan,” he said.

He said there is already legislation that he thinks may take care of many of these issues.

“One example of that is that over the course of 20 or 30 years since I was on the Planning Commission, we've instituted very rigorous lease requirements on landlords that didn't used to exist,” Brookover said.

DeLay said that he strongly supports the ordinance, and called the current housing process for students unfair and absurd. 

“Here's the thing, you haven't even finished unpacking your apartment yet, and your landlord calls and says, ‘I want to show your apartment to somebody who's going to rent it 11 (or) 13 months from now. ... I understand that you've just finished putting up your Kenneth Walker III poster, but are you gonna be here next year?” DeLay said.

DeLay indicated that the city can’t expect students to stay in East Lansing after graduating if they have to decide a year in advance where they want to live.

Grigsby said that he has not come to a conclusion regarding the ordinance yet, but that he would like to work towards a solution with all parties involved.

Diversity, equity and public safety

The candidates also touched on topics of racism and public safety at the forum.

“We don't live in a vacuum, there were a great deal of things going around public safety, law enforcement ... as a nation,” Bacon said. “We declared East Lansing an anti-racist city. ... We're a city of many firsts in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and civil rights, we have never shied away from that reputation.”

Bacon also referenced installing the first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as working with the city’s disturbing peace codes. 

“We have a very long legacy of being on the right side of history,” Bacon said.

Manuel said that diversity makes the community stronger. 

“I think people hear diversity and they only think about race and it's a lot more than that ... especially among students,” he said. “It's also diversity in gender identification, sexual orientation and language barriers, and it's incredibly important we keep an open mind for everyone.”

Watson aided in declaring racism as a public health crisis in East Lansing, but also created East Lansing Info early into her appointment. One of the website titles was "Free the Nipple."

“People with mammary glands are charged fees for lifting up our tops, as opposed to people without, and everybody has nipples and so equitable practices are along those lines of what I think about,” Watson said.

Watson said tampon taxes and the Crown Act are also being discussed right now. 

“Uterus owners shouldn’t have to pay extra prices because we bleed on a monthly basis," Watson said. "We should have those taxes eliminated. We've been talking recently about the Crown Act on the city council level, and I know that it's something students have been talking about as well.So, keeping my ears open,and looking for those opportunities where I can discuss diversity, equity and inclusion, or I can make sure it's something on our minds on a council level, on a citizen level is something I value.”

Students were given the chance to ask the two-year term candidates public questions. 

ASMSU President Georgia Frost asked the candidates what they would do to increase community trust in policing, and what specific policy options the candidates could see assisting police-community relations.

Bacon referenced this summer’s establishment of an independent police oversight board.

“We just seated a police oversight commission that will handle complaints along with really studying best practices and looking at how to continue to improve that community relationship," Bacon said. "We also really tried to improve on why we interact with police on things that aren't necessarily law-enforcement related. That was the importance of getting social workers on board. ... And we're also committed to increasing and enhancing community policing.”

Manuel said that he doesn’t think anything needs to be taken from the police department.

“I know that they're doing the best they can and, for the most part, are a great group of individuals,” he said.

State Liaison for ASMSU Ishaan Modi asked how the candidates planned on expanding access to community mental health resources.

“We understand the devastation of mental health issues and then combined in the community, particularly with issues of gun violence,” Bacon said. “We will look for new partnerships and new areas of service to the community and to students, and we'll continue to build with our local partners here.”

Manuel said that it comes down to the cost of these programs, but that MSU does a great job providing opportunities to students that need help.

“Moving forward, there are various ways to pay for it, it's a top priority for all you guys,” he said.

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