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East Lansing lifts restrictions on City Council investigation

City of East Lansing

East Lansing is removing restrictions that blocked officials from releasing a report addressing allegations of overreach by the City Council.

Last year, the council hired an independent attorney to investigate an anonymous complaint that claimed city leaders bypassed the city manager to give direction to employees. That would be a violation of East Lansing's charter, which requires the council to go through the manager to implement policies.

The report was completed last fall but during a special meeting, the council declined to release it citing attorney-client privilege and a desire to protect the identities of people who cooperated with the investigation. The group instead opted to release the following statement:

Dana Watson seated during East Lansing City Council.
Arjun Thakkar
East Lansing Councilmember Dana Watson, as seen during a previous city council meeting, voted against waiving the report's restrictions.

"The City Council wishes to advise the public that the independent review authorized by the City Council and conducted by Randall Secontine found that the assertions of charter violations contained within the anonymous complaint were without merit. The City Attorney concurred with this determination."

Following last year's election and three new members joining the group, the East Lansing City Council voted earlier this week to waive those restrictions, making it possible for the document to be made public with redactions to omit individual names.

City Councilmember Dana Watson and Mayor George Brookover voted against the measure. Watson said the move violates the trust of staff who cooperated with the investigation.

“Many staff, people walked into being open to discuss things, because they thought it was safe, and that this wasn't going to make it to the public," Watson told WKAR.

Mayor Bacon said direct attacks on staff members would not be tolerated.
Arjun Thakkar
Former Mayor Ron Bacon.

“It was my understanding that it was relayed to current and former staff that their identities would not be revealed in the report. And I think we should keep our word.”

The complaint that prompted the investigation named Watson along with other city councilmembers and East Lansing’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. The author claimed the city's workforce was seeing a wave of resignations and departures due to officials interfering with city operations, something they call "disingenuous at best, and illegal and is something that should be investigated."

Some officials have claimed the allegations were motivated by racism. The report includes pointed criticisms of the actions of former Mayor Ron Bacon, director of DEI Elaine Hardy and former Interim City Manager Randy Talifarro, all of whom are Black.

Bacon told WKAR in a previous interview that the makeup of the previous council may have influenced the complaint.

"It was the first majority-minority council, and I think that creates some anxiety for some individuals beyond government. I'll leave it at that," Bacon said.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
Eli Newman is assistant news director and editor. He works with the WKAR news and digital content teams to facilitate the creation of meaningful and thought-provoking multimedia news content for WKAR Public Media.
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