Patricia Spitzley | 2021 Lansing Mayoral Candidates On The Issues
Lansing's primary election is coming up on Aug. 3. Six candidates are running to become the city's mayor.
The nonpartisan primary will narrow down the number of candidates before the general election.
WKAR speaking to each one of them about why they're running and the biggest issues Lansing faces in the next few years.
City Councilmember Patricia Spitzley joined WKAR's Sophia Saliby to share her plans for the city if elected.
Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I'm Sophia Saliby.
Lansing's primary election is coming up on Aug. 3. Six candidates are running to become the city's mayor. The nonpartisan primary will narrow down the number of candidates before the general election.
WKAR speaking to each one of them about why they're running and the biggest issues Lansing faces in the next few years. Joining me today is City Councilmember Patricia Spitzley. Thank you for being here.
Patricia Spitzley: Thank you for having me.
Saliby: Why are you the right person to lead the city?
Spitzley: I am a lifelong resident of the city of Lansing. I've been on City Council for the past six years. I've also been on the Parks Board and the Airport Board, and so I think that gives me a unique perspective of the inner workings of city government.
We have to do this together, and I have the tools to work with everyone to move the city forward.
Plus, I have experience in my day job. You know, I am in 14 states working with communities, helping them recover from, you know, the bankruptcy of General Motors, and so I have an insight on what works and what doesn't work. I also am out talking to people. You know, we have to do this together, and I have the tools to work with everyone to move the city forward.
Saliby: How would you reform policing in Lansing? And would that include defunding the force in some capacity?
Spitzley: Look, you know, I was furious last summer, over the death of George Floyd. I was furious when I found out that we had a death in our own jail, but the honest opinion is we have to do this together. You know, we have to stop working in silos and realize that the only way we're going to address this issue is by working together. And that's city government, community groups, parents, family members, you know, we have to put aside our differences, egos and agendas and focus on this.
So, my plan is to close the city jail. You know, it's a huge liability. It, you know, [would save] the city over $3 million a year. [I would] make sure that the Police Commissioner and the Fire Commissioner meetings are held in public places to encourage public participation. We have to reform how we do public safety in the city of Lansing.
We need to set an expectation that every resident should feel safe and respected in all parts of the city. I would create an Office of Neighborhood Safety which [would have] social workers, paramedics, substance abuse specialists and other unarmed non-police staff to respond to mental health, substance abuse-related issues and other unarmed conflicts.
I would support and implement the BREATHE Act and other initiatives recently announced by Representative Sarah Anthony and the president, again, we have to do this together. I would invest in the violence prevention programs, the proven prevention programs, like the Advanced Peace Initiative. And I would expand an investigative unit in the Lansing Police Department to address the unsolved homicides. We have to do this together, and it's not just "me" or "I," it's "we." And we can we can do this, but we have to work together.
Saliby: What are the biggest issues involving racial equity in the city? And how do you plan to address them?
Spitzley: Well, I think that on city government level, you know, we have to be the example and we have not been. You know, there [are] multiple discrimination lawsuits against the city of Lansing. And we have to figure out why those employees felt they had no other choice but to sue the city government. We need to clean our own house first.
So, we need to make sure our department heads have, through performance objectives that they have put together, diversity and inclusion plans in hiring, in retention and in promotion of the employees. We need to make sure that our employees feel like their voices matter and that their opinions matter, and we need to respect all of our employees. And so, those are the things that the city of Lansing needs to do to lead by example.
We also need to make sure that any policies and programs that we implement [and] that impact our city of Lansing residents have been developed in an open public forum. We can't make decisions behind closed doors that are going to impact our city residents. They won't trust the process, and if they don't trust the process, they're not going to trust city government to provide them with the critical services that they demand and deserve.
Saliby: In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened financial inequalities for Lansing residents. How would you stop the most vulnerable from being left behind?
Spitzley: You know, we received a lot of money, $51 million in COVID funding from the federal government. We need to make sure that how we spend those dollars has been reviewed by the public. Again, I'm in a number of cities throughout the country, and the cities that are the most successful are the ones that involve the public in how they spend those dollars.
We were given $51 million. We only have half left. That $26 million that has already been expended, that expenditure was done without public input. We can't continue to make those same mistakes. We have to involve the city in how we spend the remainder of those dollars. And quite frankly, the remainder of those dollars need to be actively spent on the community [for] those who have been impacted by COVID-19.
Saliby: Lansing faces hundreds of millions of dollars in underfunded pension and retiree health care costs. How would you address this problem if elected?
Spitzley: First, we need to step back and realize that we've had annual audits for the past seven years that have shown material deficiencies in how we do business, including how we conduct our financial business for our unfunded pension and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) and how we do bank reconciliation, i.e. how we balance our checkbook. So, we need to address those deficiencies. You know, when we don't know what's in our checkbook, how can we make financial decisions down the road that impact not only our retirees but our city residents?
Second, one of the things that has been done recently is that our Chief Strategy Officer did an actuarial review of our pensions, and it has shown that it's not $900 million deficit as we have been told just two months ago by the city of Lansing's Finance Director and Budget Director. It's more along $257 million. So again, it gets back to we need to know what we have, so that we can make plans. And those type of disparities are what breeds mistrust in city government.
It's the same way as our rainy day fund, if you will. You know, this time last year, it was $2 million, then it went back to $10 million, then it went to $13 million and now it's at $10 million. That's in a year's time. How can the city of Lansing residents trust us to make these important decisions? If, you know, the important funds, our rainy day fund [and] our unfunded liabilities are moving targets and that appear to change at any given day.
Editor’s note: In this interview, Spitzley references the city’s unfunded liability calculation as having shrunk from “over $900 million proposed now down to $247 (million).” In documents submitted to Michigan’s Treasury department last year, Lansing estimated its total unfunded liability at $907 million, including $534 million in retiree health care costs plus $343 million in pension costs. This year, a consultant estimated Lansing’s unfunded health care costs at $247 million but has yet to release an updated pension liability estimate.
Saliby: And I want to give you these last 30 seconds here to give a brief elevator pitch to voters about why they should vote for you on Aug. 3.
Spitzley: You know, Lansing residents deserve to know that the taxes they pay, get used for the services they rely on not only today, but five years from now. Will our garbage be picked up? Will our streets be plowed? Will we be able to put out fires? We need a mayor who listens and who brings us together for our common purpose of a strong and united Lansing.
I'm running for mayor to bring a level of respect, clarity and teamwork in city government that is long overdue.
I'm running for mayor to bring a level of respect, clarity and teamwork in city government that is long overdue. Only by working together with respect and honesty can we correct the coursework and improve the lives of everyday people, and that's why I'm running for mayor of the city of Lansing.
Saliby: City Councilmember Patricia Spitzley is running to be Lansing's next mayor. Thank you for joining me.
Spitzley: Thank you for having me.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Sarah Lehr contributed to this web post.