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Should felonies bar people from serving on Lansing boards? City Council to let voters decide

election sign
Reginald Hardwick
Voting booths

The Lansing City Council has advanced a ballot measure that would let people with felony convictions serve on city boards and commissions.

Currently, the city's charter bans anyone who’s been convicted of a felony within the last two decades from being appointed to city boards or commissions.

But Mayor Andy Schor believes that should change. He says he was inspired by a local businessman who wanted to serve, but was barred by a criminal record.

“We are a city that understands that, when someone does something wrong, they can do their time and then be a productive member of society," Schor said.

At the mayor’s urging, City Council agreed this week to place the charter amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.

If the measure is approved by voters, felony convictions would no longer automatically disqualify someone from appointments to more than two dozen city boards that oversee issues ranging from housing to parks and recreation to utilities.

Typically, those unpaid board members are recommended by the mayor before being approved by City Council and Schor says his office plans to continue running background checks on candidates before exercising discretion about whether someone is fit for an appointment.

"Certainly we vet and we review appointees," Schor told the City Council during a meeting Monday night. "You vet and review appointees here at City Council."

Even if the amendment is approved, language in the charter would remain that bans people from being elected to city-level office if they've been convicted of a violation of the public trust, a violation of election law or any felony within the last 20 years.

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