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Lansing Charter Commission candidates form coalitions, promise big changes ahead of election

In this Nov. 4, 2020, photo, protestors attend a rally calling for every vote to be counted from the general election near the Detroit Department of Elections building in Detroit.
David Goldman
/
AP
There are 11 seats on the new charter commission.

2024 is a big election year, and one important election for Lansing residents is taking place on May 7.

In 2023, voters approved the creation of a commission to review and amend Lansing’s charter, or governing document.

Now, 36 candidates are running for the 11 seats on the commission.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's Politics and Civics reporter. He created a guide, so residents can get to know these candidates better. WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Thakkar about the election and the voter guide.

See WKAR's Lansing Charter Commission candidate guide here.

Interview Highlights

On the work the commission will do once members are elected

The group is going to hold meetings to hear from different residents and community members, hear what they think should be changed or revised in the charter. They're going to closely revise and read the document, consider what parts should be updated or changed. That could range from minor changes in language to reshaping the form or structure of Lansing's government.

On the priorities candidates have

Some folks said that they're more interested in looking at revising the structure and form of Lansing's government. For example, Lansing has a strong mayor system. Folks call it a strong mayor system where the mayor has more control and authority over the direction and policies to some extent in the city. And they have expressed interest in shifting more towards a city manager kind of system where it's a little more separate and more power is in the council. And others have said that they just want to prioritize and hear what the community has to say.

On the coalitions of candidates that have formed

The Lansing Regional Chamber is one of those groups, their political action committee has endorsed candidates in the past in previous elections. Their argument is that it shows who labor and business community members support. So, they've endorsed a slate of nine candidates that you can see on our website.

And there's also another group that calls themselves the Lansing Community Alliance. And that's nine people who are campaigning together, and they say that their slate is kind of to combat special interest groups and their influence. And they argue that they're going to be more inclusive in community engagement.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: 2024 is a big election year, and one important election for Lansing residents is taking place in just a few weeks.

Last year, voters approved the creation of a commission to review and amend Lansing’s charter, or governing document.

Now, 36 candidates are running for the 11 seats on the commission.

Arjun Thakkar is our politics and civics reporter. He created a guide on our website, so residents can get to know these candidates better. Thank you for joining me.

Arjun Thakkar: Thanks for having me.

Saliby: What will the charter commission do after this election, and we know who's going to be in the group?

Thakkar: So, if you kind of think of the city charter as kind of like a local constitution describing structure and form of government and rules in Lansing, you can kind of think of the charter commission as a constitutional convention.

The group is going to hold meetings to hear from different residents and community members, hear what they think should be changed or revised in the charter. They're going to closely revise and read the document, consider what parts should be updated or changed. That could range from minor changes in language to reshaping the form or structure of Lansing's government.

And once they go through that process, they're going to get approval from the Attorney General and governor for their proposal of the city charter. And ultimately, they'll go back to voters for final approval of an up-or-down vote on that charter proposal.

Saliby: 36 candidates seems like a lot. Why were so many people or why are so many people interested in serving with this group?

Thakkar: What we heard from the candidates is all of them essentially said that they felt a real civic duty, that they really wanted to be involved in this almost historic process. Lansing's current charter dates back to 1978, so it's been more than 40 years since they last took a look at a broad overhaul of the city charter.

And we also have a number of different types of candidates we've got household names, people who've been in Lansing politics and government for years, folks on nonprofit boards and also a number of young people. So, people are clearly interested in being part of this process.

Saliby: Can you talk more about the specific questions, you asked candidates for this guide? Because we all gave them the same questions, the same prompts, and then they were able to answer.

Thakkar: In our guide, I asked two questions: why are you running for the city charter commission? And how would you approach revising the city charter? And I think that second question is really key because it'll shape how members of the commission approach their work.

Some folks said that they're more interested in looking at revising the structure and form of Lansing's government. For example, Lansing has a strong mayor system. Folks call it a strong mayor system where the mayor has more control and authority over the direction and policies to some extent in the city. And they have expressed interest in shifting more towards a city manager kind of system where it's a little more separate and more power is in the council.

And others have said that they just want to prioritize and hear what the community has to say. So, there's a variety of ideas that have been kind of thrown out there for looking at Lansing's city charter.

Saliby: I know that there are several groups of candidates who have formed coalitions with similar goals. They're running together on a platform. What's going on with that?

Thakkar: The Lansing Regional Chamber is one of those groups, their political action committee has endorsed candidates in the past in previous elections. Their argument is that it shows who labor and business community members support. They've endorsed a slate of nine candidates that you can see on our website.

And there's also another group that calls themselves the Lansing Community Alliance. And that's nine people who are campaigning together, and they say that their slate is kind of to combat special interest groups and their influence. And they argue that they're going to be more inclusive in community engagement.

So, there's multiple groups about half of the candidates are part of the different coalitions, and it'll be up to the voters to decide who they prefer.

Saliby: We don't have that much time left, but quickly, when will this commission get started? And about how long do they have to do all these meetings, the revisions and before it heads over to the Attorney General and the governor?

Thakkar: Yeah, so a couple of weeks after the election, the commission will get started in that process. And they'll have about two and a half years to, again, get this process through going to the governor, Attorney General and, again, getting that final approval on the city charter from voters.

Saliby: Arjun Thakkar is WKAR’s Politics and Civics reporter. You can find his guide to the candidates running for Lansing’s Charter Commission at wkar.org. The election is on May 7. Thank you for being here.

Thakkar: Yeah. Thanks, Sophia.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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