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East Lansing adopts cell tower guidelines and workforce retention strategy

Image of a cell tower
Crown Castle plans to install over 50 small cell 5G towers in East Lansing.

The city of East Lansing has adopted new guidelines concerning the installation of small cell 5G towers.

That’s after residents pushed to have a greater say in where the towers are located.

An ad hoc committee on cell towers sent a resolution to City Council Tuesday to guide how the structures will be implemented. They recommend a process called colocation—that means putting up cell tower technology on existing poles and street light infrastructure whenever possible.

Interim City Manager Randy Talifarro commended the committee for putting together the guidance so quickly. But he noted state law limits how much control the city has over cell tower projects.

“These are guidelines that we will do our best to pressure the vendor and those responsible parties—Crown Castle and Verizon—to adhere to," he said. "But we are somewhat constrained by the law.”

The city attorney asked the council to adopt the guidelines without formally passing an ordinance. That allows administrators to change the recommendations as needed.

The council also discussed a proposed strategy to prevent further employees from leaving their jobs with the city following an exodus of city officials this year.

Talifarro said the challenges the city is facing are not unique to East Lansing: he cited a report about the challenges local governments in Michigan face with recruiting and retaining a workforce.

Talifarro cited the following reasons for why so many employees have departed work with the city:

1. Regular retirement patterns
2. Fatigue - COVID-19 & “The Great Resignation”
3. Low pay rates
4. Competition from other employers
5. Uncertainty and anxiety created by the city manager vacancy

City Council discussed several recommendations from Talifarro to ensure it retains its employees. Those include a one-year retention bonus employees could receive every six months and a stipend for staff taking on responsibilities outside of their current roles.

Councilmember Noel Garcia Jr. said he supports the retention strategy. But he wants to take time to hear what staff members need to continue working for the city.

“You've done exit surveys," Garcia Jr. said. "What about a retention survey? What's going to make you want to stay with us?”

Some council members asked Talifarro to provide more detail on the cost of the proposals and how they would impact employment contracts as well as agreements with unionized staff members.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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