The Lansing City Council has been spinning its wheels recently, stuck over who its President and Vice-President will be for 2017.
WKAR’s Mark Bashore got to wondering what council members are most eager to get to work on now that the matter is settled.
He spoke with long-time council member, and newly elected council Vice President, Carol Wood.
Mark Bashore: Wood told me she was frustrated with the leadership impasse, which has held up discussion and action on important city issues.
She relished the chance to talk about what’s on her wish list.
At the top, a much debated transparency ordinance.
It would require more disclosure from developers and the city officials negotiating incentives with them.
It would also establish a competitive bidding process for any project eligible for city tax abatements:
“Part of the process would be that they have an opened bid process,” she says.
Currently, any agreement under consideration involves only one developer at a time.
"They could already have bid out the work," she adds. "They already could have picked only one…company that they’ve done business with before.”
She says that means the developer is less inclined to negotiate, putting the city at a disadvantage.
Wood wants to open up the process to multiple bidders if incentives are involved. Then, they’re more likely to be justified.
She’s also bothered that sometimes, the construction companies involved are from outside the area.
That, she says, deprives Lansing area construction companies and their workers of opportunities.
“Having my neighbor--who is a mason--have an opportunity to bid for that job, get that job, put those dollars back in and help our local economy, then we can understand the rationale on why we receive less taxes coming in with this project,” she says.
The proposal under consideration would also disclose more information than council members currently get.
Right now, she says, it’s limited to the number of jobs forecast and the income tax likely to be collected.
It also doesn’t identify a project’s subcontractors which is a chance to employ more local workers.
There is hesitation and some resistance to the transparency ordinance from several council members for a couple of reasons. The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce also opposes.
Generally, they view it as a disincentive, more hurdles for developers. Fewer such requirements, they believe, are likely to lead to more development.
A public hearing on a proposed transparency ordinance is scheduled for the city council’s January 30 meeting.
Carol Wood’s other short list goal is one she’s worked on for years: city regulation of medical marijuana. Her public policy committee continues working on an ordinance that would regulate pot businesses.
She says a lot of thorny issues remain.
“Many of the dispensaries don’t want regulations as far as distances between churches and schools and other facilities,” she explains.
Wood also says some businesses oppose stipulations that pot businesses maintain enough capital to remain open.
From the opposite direction, she hears from residents who complain—sometimes loudly--about Lansing’s roughly 70 marijuana retailers.
“When you look at medical marijuana dispensaries and check cashing places and liquor stores, it has…a value," she says. "Do I buy the house in Lansing or do I buy the house in Holt? What’s the difference that I get from that? What’s the difference for my community?”
Recent state legislation requires municipalities with marijuana businesses to enact ordinances.
Wood’s eager to move forward, but says wrapping up still could take months.
The topic is frequently discussed at Public Safety committee meetings. Its meeting times will be announced soon now that council's leadership is determined.