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Felonies can bar people from serving on a city board, but Lansing's mayor wants that to change

sign on City Hall building that reads: "David C. Hollister City Hall" with the city seal
City of Lansing

Mayor Andy Schor wants to change a provision in Lansing's city charter that bans people convicted of felonies in the last 20 years from being appointed to city boards.

He’s asking City Council to place the measure on Nov. 8 ballot, where it would need approval from a majority of city voters before taking effect.

Schor says he was inspired by a local businessman who wanted to serve on a local board but couldn’t because of a felony.

"To me, that didn't make a lot of sense," he said. "If someone has done their penance and has become a productive member of society, they should be able to volunteer, to give back."

"If someone has done their penance and has become a productive member of society, they should be able to volunteer, to give back."
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor

At least five of eight Lansing City Council members would have to agree to bring to the issue to voters, and the deadline for placing local proposals on the November ballot is Aug. 16.

Schor formally submitted the proposal to the Council ahead of the body's Monday night meeting on May 23.

Currently, people seeking appointments to boards overseeing a wide range of issues including parks, zoning and Lansing's city-owned utility (the Board of Water & Light) must check a box consenting to a criminal background check as part of the application.

If the charter change is approved, Schor says he still supports running background checks on people seeking mayoral board appointments. But, he says, past convictions should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis rather than automatically disqualifying someone.

Most board appointments are recommended by the mayor before being approved by City Council.

Lansing's charter also bars people from seeking election to city office if they have certain convictions dating back two decades — that includes any felony conviction, a violation of election law or an offense that's deemed to be a violation of the public trust. Schor says he's "willing to have a conversation" about changing those requirements for elected officials, but he intentionally tailored his proposal to people seeking unpaid appointments.

"Right now, the issue that I'm focused on is someone who wants to volunteer, to give back to their community, not as an elected official, just a board member, where they're serving, you know, at the at the pleasure of the citizens, he said. "I think that that's an easy one. That's a slam dunk that shouldn't be controversial."

Michigan's Constitutionis somewhat less strict than Lansing's charter. It bars a candidate from being elected to statewide local office if that person was convicted of a corruption-related felony in the last two decades. Specifically, it zeroes in on any felony that relates to time in elected office or another government job and that involves "dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or a breach of the public trust."

Sarah Lehr is a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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