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New East Lansing Councilmember Noel Garcia Jr. details his priorities for nine-month term

February 8, 2023
<p>East Lansing City Council Rep. Noel Garcia Feb. 7, 2023 at the State News.</p>

East Lansing City Council Rep. Noel Garcia Feb. 7, 2023 at the State News.

Photo by Gabriel Martinez | The State News

Noel Garcia Jr., a former DeWitt Township resident, fell in love with East Lansing after enrolling his twin boys in Red Cedar Elementary School. 

The city had exactly what Garcia's family yearned for — diversity. Garcia and his boys have been in the city for over a decade now. 

"The love affair continues," Garcia said. 

Last month, Garcia was appointed to East Lansing City Council, making him the first Latino to hold such a position.

"I'm able to sit at the tables of the people that are making decisions, right? And that it's equitable, that everybody has a voice. No one knows the perspectives of a Latino more than me," he said. "I've watched mentors of mine over the years... all these Hispanic-Latino leaders that I grew up watching, and again, at very important decision-making tables...I've watched how they've made an impact and not just seated that those tables, they excelled, they were leaders." 

Garcia, in a 4-0 vote, was chosen by the East Lansing City Council to serve the council's vacancy following the resignation of Lisa Babcock, who was elected to be a judge. He will complete Babcock's term that ends in this upcoming November.

However, Garcia hopes the seat is not just a temporary gig, as he plans to run for reelection after the term ends. But he said he knows he learning to do first.

"First of all, I gotta stay in my lane— I was appointed. I wasn't voted in by the residents," Garcia said. "I want to learn in these next nine months. I think I'm going to have a great advantage so that when I do run for reelection, and then the voters choose that I'll have done my homework and feel like I'll be a good candidate for the position." 

Garcia began his career in law enforcement as one of the few officers of Hispanic descent at the Lansing Police Department. Wanting a change, Garcia approached then-Capt. Mike Dawson, who was in charge of human resources, where Garcia had then been put on a recruiting team and made the first full-time recruiting officer at the department. 

Following allegations from seven Black officers facing disparate treatment by the department's disciplinary process, Garcia partnered with Terry Curry, Michigan State University professor and present-day associate provost, in changing the department's disciplinary policies. 

"That was a huge endeavor," Garcia said. "The union got involved and challenged all that stuff. And it's stood the test of time." 

Garcia is an Ingham Intermediate School District Wilson Talent Center law enforcement instructor with a bachelor's and master’s degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University. He also used to be a former adjunct professor at MSU. 

Garcia has also served on the Hispanic-Latino Commission of Michigan for two three-year terms. 

In 2018, Garcia lost an election to the East Lansing School Board by 39 votes. Following this, Garcia became involved in the city's Independent Police Oversight Commission where he continues to serve as commissioner. 

"The school board didn't work out. And in hindsight, it was probably a good thing because I got involved with the police oversight commission," Garcia said. "I was able to bring a lot of my experiences to that commission in light of some pretty bad things that happened here in East Lansing that I felt needed attention and change and that's excessive use of force issues... and then this city council position became available, and I thought yeah, this is good timing, so I went for it." 

With his background and new role, Garcia hopes to improve residents' relationships with the East Lansing Police Department.

"We've kind of lost sight of that," he said. "Helping the police and community improve their relationship, I think that's very important. So as a councilman, I'd like to see, when we talk about public safety, that's important but more important to me is improving that relationship." 

Garcia has two sons who attend East Lansing High School, so he understands the anger many other parents and community members feel about a shelter-in-place lockdown on Jan. 24.

Garcia said the district needs a type of active shooter training, citing his experience working as a trainer for "ALICE," one type of such training.  

"There is a difficult part. I get that I'm on the council now. But I'm a father first. And so, when we had those rough two weeks, I was an angry parent," Garcia said. "Now that I'm on council, I have to calm myself a little bit and go okay, we understand there's a problem. But again, my kids are right in the middle of that problem. But now I know that I need to be part of the fix." 

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Garcia said a "fix" is needed. 

"Government works slow," he said. "This fix can't be slow. It can't be next year. It has to be now." 

Garcia isn't concerned about the city's eight turnovers in leadership either. The city has faced resignations from former City Manager George Lahanas, City Clerk Jennifer Shuster, Deputy City Clerk Kathryn Gardner, Director of Planning, Building and Development and Assistant City Manager Tom Fehrenbach, Community and Economic Development Administrator Adam Cummins, Human Resources Director Shelli Neumann and Senior Planner Darcy Schmitt. 

"That happens with a change in leadership. That's not, in my opinion, concerning," he said. "We've not had one person hesitate from stepping up and taking more leadership roles to fill the gaps in these different positions that we're losing. Because we have great, great employees here." 

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