Lansing Ethics Board sends complaint against Councilmember Brown to full City Council
The City of Lansing’s Board of Ethics is sending a complaint about a city councilmember’s actions to the full council.
Officials including Lansing Mayor Andy Schor allege councilmember Jeffrey Brown sought financial payments for constituents from a property developer and housing official in exchange for his political support. They also say he overstepped his authority by directly requesting federal funding for local projects from Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin.
With three members absent, including the chair and vice-chair, the ethics board heard from Brown’s legal team Tuesday before weighing in on the matter.
Brendon Basiga, one of Brown’s attorneys and a former member of the ethics board himself, told the group the allegations amounted to hearsay and encouraged the board to dismiss the complaint.
“We cannot go on speculation," Basiga said. "We cannot go on conjecture. We go on evidence. The evidence does not support these ethical violations.”
Basiga said Brown's actions could not be considered a violation of the ethics ordinance when they would've benefited members of the public.
James DeLine, a member of the ethics board, disagreed with that reasoning.
"There is a benefit to saying 'And I fought for my tenants,'" he said. "I think there is a benefit to the city council member, given that context. And when you go to someone who knows you're a city councilmember, and you say 'I sure wish you would do this,' it doesn't have to be verbatim in verbiage."
The board’s discussion Tuesday evening largely centered around the federal funding allegation. The Mayor and his staff are responsible for speaking with the council and managing funding requests from members of Congress. The complaint accused Brown of violating Lansing’s ethics guidelines by pursuing local funding outside of those regular channels.
An external report found Brown's actions violated the city ordinance. But Brown's legal team said the investigation largely ignored emails that show he did not pursue the funding application when he learned the mayor did not support his proposal.
Ethics Board member Keith Kris said the incident demonstrated Brown’s inexperience with the process for seeking federal dollars.
"To me, this almost reads more like somebody who's been in the job for a couple years and hasn't learned how you're supposed to do the job," Kris said. "You know, there's a process. He's supposedly been through this before. And he either didn't know or chose to ignore that process.”
The board voted unanimously to send the complaint to the full council for review of the allegation. They also recommended additional training related to federal funding requests.