Ahead Of State Of The City, A Tumultuous 2020 Hangs Over Lansing Mayor Schor
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, now in the final year of his term, is set to deliver the 2021 State of The City on February 3. Schor has already stated his main priorities this year will include handling the coronavirus pandemic, continuing racial justice and equity work, and dealing with the city’s budget.
2020 proved to be a chaotic year rife with controversies for Schor, who has not announced if he plans to run again. Here's a look back at some of the key moment's that shaped Schor’s 2020 and will determine his path forward in 2021.
The coronavirus pandemic dealt a major blow to Lansing’s economy. Schor told WKAR that the city had to cut $12.5 million from its budget in the span of three months.
One of the biggest cost saving measures announced by the city in September 2020 were reforms to retiree healthcare plans. The city said by changing retiree plans to mirror those of active employees, it would see $8 million in savings annually. The announcement of the changes led to protests from the city’s retirees, as reported by the Lansing State Journal. In December,the parties came to an agreement which would not results in long term cost increases for retirees. The city said with the agreement in place, they would still save about $3.5 million annually.
As of September 2020, the city reported that unfunded pension and healthcare liabilties totaled $736.6 million.
Other more modest cost-saving measures have been implemented. In the spring of 2020, the city launched a work-share program that could save about $1.5 million.This January, it was announced Schor and the city’s 13 department directors would not receive pay raises in 2021.The Lansing City Council also approved a one-year contract extension with Teamsters Local 243, which represents more than 200 city employees, that would keep wages flat.
Police Violence Leads To Calls For Equity In Lansing
The May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, set off a wave of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequity. Lansing experienced its most chaotic protest on May 31, when people converged near the State Capitol downtown causing property damage and getting into small skirmishes with law enforcement. Police used a tear-gas like substance to control protesters.
Shortly after protests began, Schor began to face calls to resign from protesters.
In early June, Black Lives Matter Lansing hosted a webinar to discuss Ingham County commissioners' proposal to declare racism a public health crisis.
Panelists posed tough questions about the city’s police spending and the mayor's handling of race relations. During that webinar, BLM Lansing co-founder and CEO of One Love Global, Angela Waters Austin, called on Schor to step down.
“I asked you to resign, I’d like an answer,” Austin said.
“I’m not planning to resign right now,” Schor responded.
In an interview in February of 2021, Austin stood by her belief that Schor should resign. She described a series of interactions with the mayor in the year prior where he had engaged in social justice events and organizations but had what she called “a very different understanding about what diversity means, and the difference between diversity, inclusion and racial equity” than her colleagues.
“I had no idea that he was going to really present himself as having been a champion [and] that he still came to the table with so little understanding about what racial equity really means, and more importantly, what it actually means to listen to Black voices, to have Black and brown people at the table, and to prioritize the voices of the people who are the most directly impacted," said Waters Austin.
She also said the mayor left out prominent voices, including hers, when he formed his Racial Justice and Equity Alliance later in the summer.
When it comes to his response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Schor confessed he should have handled the webinar differently.
“I got caught off guard in a call. And I was expecting to be listening to the community, and it turned out there were questions asked to me that I wasn't prepared for. So, at the time, I admitted that I was unprepared for those questions.”
Lansing’s Response To Inequity
Facing additional calls from protesters to defund the police, either entirely or partially, and reallocate those funds to other social service programs Mayor Schor proposed allocating $100,000 from the city’s $47 million budget towards a racial equity and anti-racism fund. A sum critics deemed paltry.
Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green pushed back against any calls to defund the police, telling WKAR’s Sophia Saliby in June, he felt the department was underfunded and other departments don’t have the infrastructure to handle issues like homelessness and substance abuse like the police do.
“I want everything those protesters are talking about when you talk about dealing with some of the social problems that police didn't ask to accept, but it was thrust upon us," said Green.
Meanwhile, Councilmember Brandon Betz put forth a different proposal that would cut the city’s police budget in half over the course of 5 years. Betz criticized Schor for not being proactive.
“I think that our council, in particular, is ready to come to task with that and ready to do the work that needs to be done, especially when we have a mayor who isn't really stepping up to the plate. The Council has to do that,” Betz told WKAR in July.
Yet, in September the Lansing City Council decided not to include Betz's proposed cut in its budget recommendation to the mayor.
In July, Schor announced the creation of the Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance with consultant and attorney, Teresa Bingman.
The alliance is examining policies, practices and biases to eradicate racism within the city.
“Anybody is welcome to provide input and feedback,” he said. “We’re going to take information from everybody. Anybody in the city, anybody who works or lives in the city. This is newly heightened here in Lansing, and the nation and the world and we’re addressing it.”
Schor has signaled an action plan from the alliance could be coming in the next few months.
While Lansing may be attempting to address diversity and equity within its ranks, the city of Lansing is still facing a civil lawsuit in the alleged wrongful death of a man in its custody in April of 2020.
At the Lansing City Jail, four police officers allegedly cuffed 54-year-old Athony Hulon’s hands behind his back while compressing his neck, chest and torso.He was pronounced dead about an hour later due to positional asphyxia.The Lansing State Journal reported the police officers involved are back on duty after an initial review.
In a January interview, Schor said staffing decisions were up to Police Chief Daryl Green. The city is waiting on the results on a criminal investigation from the Attorney General’s office.
Schor was once again the subject of controversy when it was discovered in late January that 200 city of Lansing employees, including the mayor, received COVID-19 vaccines early.
As the Lansing CityPulse reported, Sparrow Health Systems contacted the city earlier in the month to offer the doses of the vaccine. Employees were not a part of groups currently allowed to get the vaccine like seniors and city police and firefighters.
According to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail, it was a mistake. Had she known, Vail says, she would have redirected the vaccines to other people.