City of Lansing Services and Infrastructure
It is vitally important for the Mayor of Lansing to create an atmosphere of respect and encourage cooperative relationships with others on behalf of our city. We must develop and cultivate relationships with all partners to develop “win-win” solutions, reduce duplication, and cut costs. I look forward to leveraging my positive relationships with City of Lansing employees, city council, the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, unions, neighboring communities, and elected officials at the state and federal levels. From these relationships, ideas will emerge and solutions will develop to help Lansing and our surrounding region succeed.
For Lansing to succeed as a city, we must create effective partnerships regionally and build on mutual trust and transparency. By looking at things through a regional lens, the City of Lansing can and will realize operational efficiencies, efficient services, and forge new relationship based on mutual trust and transparency.
I am committed to listening and hearing ideas from stakeholders invested in the greater Lansing area, and to working with our partners to positively impact the quality of life for Lansing. We are stronger when we are working together!
Fixing local roads and sidewalks is a necessary component of community revitalization. Recognizing that resources are limited and that road reconstruction is very expensive, we need to do a better job of planning which roads require our attention. We also need to do a better job of coordinating utilities with road construction to avoid repeated excavations of highly trafficked roads, which is both expensive and disruptive.
Residents deserve to know what roads are being fixed and what is being done with state and local millage dollars. By adopting a comprehensive budget review process, we will not only prioritize resources to fix our roads, but we will also find out where the current dollars are going and how they are being spent. By identifying and prioritizing resources to priority roads in a transparent way, and ensuring that these are fixed first, we’ll not only spend our limited dollars in a more efficient way, we will also earn the trust of residents who are understandably frustrated with our current approach. We also need to be flexible on options to fund the fixes needed for our roads. Once we have a specific accounting of how current road funding is being spent that we can share with residents, we will meet with residents neighborhood-by- neighborhood to understand the roads and sidewalks which they believe is a priority. We will then cost out the repairs and fix roads in each neighborhoods with existing gas tax and millage dollars. Should residents want faster repairs or more thorough repairs than the city has available, a variety of options have been suggested – fighting for more road funding from the state, bonding, targeted assessments, and others. I will convene community conversations neighborhood-by-neighborhood for the priority of needs and how we can best address and fund these fixes.
And we all know that sidewalks are getting worse and worse. We need working sidewalks for the safety of our residents, and especially our children. I will ensure that the City is fixing sidewalks as best as possible with available resources. Like roads, we need an inventory of damaged sidewalks. Neighbor reporting of damaged sidewalks will be an important tool to use, and we will make it easy for residents to report damaged and uneven sidewalks through accessible staff (Citizen Advocate) and technology options. I will also discuss options with neighbors such as neighborhood cost sharing programs when city resources are exhausted.
Working collaboratively with our employees at the negotiation table, we need to creatively adopt cost saving models and approaches that other local governments have used to improve working conditions and realize efficiencies that will save taxpayers money.
Lansing must also work with our employees to develop strategies designed to reducing legacy costs over the long term and we must look at best practices such as Priority Based Budgeting. And while we are smarter about our spending, we must also do a better job of serving our residents.
To that end, when elected I will create a Citizen’s Advocate who will be responsible to respond to resident concerns directly, and cut red tape that too often bogs down their city government. As a strong supporter of government transparency as an elected official, I will bring this commitment to transparency to our city government so residents know how their tax dollars are being spent. I am also committed to increasing transparency and responsiveness from city entities, including our independent boards and commissions.
Employee Health Care Committee
As the City of Lansing negotiates health care benefits for its employees, we will consider creation of an Employee Health Care Committee to negotiate benefits for all city employees, improve our offerings, and save taxpayers money. This committee would consist of representatives from each union who meet regularly to provide input on benefit programs and other issues. Ingham County currently takes this approach with its employees and has been able to successfully negotiate uniform health benefits while keeping costs low. As Mayor, I will work with our employee partners to not only provide important benefits to those that run our city, but also create efficiencies and reduce costs by providing a uniform set of benefits for employees.
Lansing’s mayor must be able to work with the City Council to achieve results for our residents. To successfully work together, elected officials must first have effective working relationships and demonstrate mutual respect and proper understanding for the roles of their fellow public officials. For successful collaboration, the mayor must be transparent with Council about a vision for Lansing, and authentically seek feedback and ideas from council members. Similarly, Council members should expect their voices to be heard and that where possible, their energy and ideas will be harnessed by the Mayor for the benefit of the City.
Citizens expect both the Mayor and Council to set aside differences and come together for the benefit of the City. Little things can make a difference, like the Mayor personally attending key council meetings and making it a priority to host regular meetings between the mayor and all individual council members. One option could be to reinstate regular meetings with councilmembers to allow City Council members to raise concerns, interact with department staff, and be a part of the long term planning strategy discussions for the City. Additionally, we could partner to reach out to the community for feedback. I would be happy to attend regular constituent contact meetings held by councilmembers, and would welcome councilmembers to attend any town hall or coffee hour meetings that I hold. I look forward to having a collaborative and community-focused city government.
Lansing must be an open, trustworthy partner with communities throughout our region. The Mayor must create an atmosphere of respect for our neighbors that will result in leaders from other communities wanting to partner with us. I will bring to the Mayor’s office a long history of positive, deep relationships with regional leaders and key community stakeholders that will allow us to work together on issues of shared importance. As mayor, I am committed to meeting regularly with neighboring community leaders, county officials, partners in labor and business, and schools, in order to ensure that we are maximizing regional opportunities for partnership and collaboration. These meetings provide more than an opportunity for information sharing and relationship building—they have the potential to lay the groundwork for regional cooperation initiatives that can eliminate inefficiencies, better leverage economic development opportunities, and save taxpayers money. I would also be willing to utilize existing Michigan laws and tools that allow governments to coordinate together.
I have already been endorsed by leaders in several neighboring communities and look forward to working with them to identify efficiencies, to save the City of Lansing money, and to improve economic development and job growth throughout mid-Michigan—all while protecting those services that are highly valued by Lansing residents.
Local Government Coordination and Urban Area Regionalism
The Lansing region’s local units of government have operated in silos for too long. We need proactive local government coordination, which has not been possible in the recent past due to a severe lack of trust between local government leaders. Trust is absolutely crucial for regional collaboration, which is why I will prioritize repairing damaged relationships through the trust I’ve already built with so many local leaders.
All local governments and stakeholders must come together to discuss issues of common interest. This should include elected and appointed officials from city, township, and county government, school districts, Lansing Community College, Michigan State University, parks commissioners, planners, etc. We should be talking to each other about how we can be more efficient and effective. A good starting place for this could be through the Capitol Council of Governments (CAPCOG). This is a partnership between the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Michigan State University, Clinton County, Eaton County, and Ingham County that advocate for issues at the state level to benefit the entire region, such as securing critical infrastructure funding as well as supporting initiatives that attract and retain talent to our region. Lansing should be a part of this important group of leaders and involved with its discussions and advocacy.
Additionally, we need to recognize that the region’s urban areas have different challenges than rural neighbors and seek out partnerships with the highly urbanized core areas found throughout the capital area. We share many characteristics and must work together with Delta Township, Lansing Township, DeWitt, DeWitt Township, East Lansing, Meridian Township, and Delhi Township. To do this, we must have the ability to talk to and work with our neighbors on our borders in a cooperative manner. I will accomplish this by leveraging my current relationships with leaders in these communities and forging new partnerships for the benefit of the citizens of Lansing and each of these other communities.
City residents with a problem face a challenge navigating any number of departments and staff as they try to resolve their issues or voice their concerns. While a savvy citizen may know they can contact the mayor’s office or city council members, the majority of citizens can become frustrated with the prospect of navigating their way through City Hall.
Sometimes, citizens just need an advocate, someone who is dedicated to cutting through the bureaucracy to ensure citizens receive efficient, thoughtful answers to their inquiries. I will pursue creation of a formal Citizen Advocate position to respond to resident concerns directly and cut through red tape and navigate through the necessary city departments or receive referral to another agency such as BWL or Ingham County. This person will be a key member of the Mayor’s team and report directly to me to ensure all citizens are granted the courtesy of a response and investigation of their issue from their city government. This person could also regularly analyze patterns of incoming constituent cases to determine issues the city needs to focus on for improvement.
Board of Water and Light
The BWL and its employees are important assets to the City of Lansing. I support keeping the BWL as a municipal utility and do not support efforts to privatize or sell our local hometown utility. Lansing should be proud that we have a municipal authority to provide power and water to our residents and to others in the region. BWL operations should be efficient and responsive to customers. As a city-owned utility, Lansing should expect the BWL to generate a fair rate of return for our resident-owners. This includes keeping rates low as compared to competitors, as well as looking at efficiencies and savings where possible to reduce duplication of efforts between the BWL and the City of Lansing. We also must recognize that the BWL is a unique asset, and leverage BWL as a regional partner with local governments.
I am proud that the BWL is the first utility in the state to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and is underway in constructing one of the largest solar arrays in the state. Additionally, the approved strategic plan calls for 30% clean energy by 2020. I would like to see continued work on the strategic plan, and will ensure there are further discussions by the board and management on more options for clean energy and energy efficiency.
Those of us that lived through the 2013 ice storm know how disruptive a major loss of power can be to residents and business. The BWL has invested millions in infrastructure and is continuing to improve its Outage Management System. This system failed us in 2013 and has continued to have challenges, but we did see positive results of these investments during the recent wind storm, which left over 1 million Michigan residents without power. Residents that lost power were able to be brought back online quicker and without many of the missteps that we saw in 2013. While much progress has been made, we still have work to do to improve the operations of the utility and to fully regain customer trust. I will work closely with the BWL Board and leadership to improve the outage reporting system and other infrastructure designed to improve system resiliency and reliability.
In addition to service disruptions undermining trust, lack of transparency has also tarnished the reputation of the BWL. The public deserves information on buyouts of employee contracts, especially when large amounts of ratepayer dollars are involved. Lack of transparency damages public trust and undermines the reputation of the organization. As Mayor, I will ensure a culture of transparency and openness at the BWL and the City as our residents deserve to know what’s happening with their tax dollars. More information and more collaboration through public relations with stakeholders and neighborhoods must happen when major decisions are being made so there is a better understanding by the public of what is being considered, what costs are involved, and potential alternatives. The Board also needs to be transparent about major events as they occur, in a timely manner. We recently learned
the BWL was the victim of a ransomware attack that locked down their public web site and resulted in the payment of ratepayer dollars to cyber-hackers. This attack also had a cost in ratepayer dollars to repair and reconfigure systems. Unfortunately, the BWL is often extremely hesitant to share critical information with the public. The Board of Water and Light must disclose these events to the public, especially when concluded, to ensure the transparency and accountability with ratepayer dollars is the same as expected by the city and other public entities. The Board should also look to be open and accessible. City government is televised and on the internet. BWL meetings should have the same options to ensure the public can view these proceedings, and there should be detailed records of meetings.
As Mayor, I will closely review appointments to the Board of Commissioners. In addition to being community minded residents, we should be looking for board members with skills that we can leverage to take the BWL to the next level given its critical regional role as a job provider, economic development engine, and major community player. An experienced Board with members drawn from leaders in the legal, business, management and financial professions will not only have the ability to provide effective oversight, but advance the mission of this increasingly key public asset.
Transparency in Government
The City of Lansing must be a transparent government. The city should not be negotiating buyouts and contracts for employees behind closed doors filled with penalties should contracts ever be made public. Not all important decisions are made in the public eye, but the public has a right to understand what decisions were made and why—especially when those decisions affect the use of their taxpayer dollars. If elected, I will restore openness and transparency in the mayor’s office and throughout city government.
Lansing also needs to be more transparent with spending of taxpayer dollars. Citizens need to easily be able to know how millage dollars are being spent, especially for roads. They should have an available list of roads being fixed and an accounting of the spending of the citizen-approved millage dollars. This should be readily accessible on the city web page. FOIA requests should also be made easier, and citizens should be granted access to the information allowed under law in a quick and affordable manner.
As mayor, I will continue to have and work with the Fiscal Health Team to reduce the City of Lansing legacy costs over time. I will not look to solve our current problems on the backs of City retirees, who spent their careers serving the public and are now on fixed incomes.
Lansing has large legacy costs, which is common in cities throughout the state. I am working with the Governor, labor, business, and many other experts to find appropriate solutions to legacy cost problems without affecting our retirees. Among other things, strategies include seeking new revenues from the state to address the dramatic amount of revenue sharing dollars that were taken from Lansing and other cities during The Great Recession.
The State of Michigan picked the pockets of cities and other local governments to balance its own budget. I fought those cuts as an advocate for all cities with the Michigan Municipal League, as a County Commissioner, and in my years as the State Representative. I am committed to ensuring that we’re able to pay down our debt by working with all stakeholders toward feasible solutions that ensure the fiscal health of the City of Lansing moving forward.
As Lansing addresses and improves its fiscal health and wellness, we need to review our overall model of budgeting. Many local governments in Michigan are using or looking at Priority Based Budgeting. Under this model, a full review is done of the entire city organization—identifying problems, their costs, and their relevance by prioritizing each issue. I would utilize both staff and community input in this process. While resources must be used for required costs, assigning priority to the wants of the community is a good way to help ensure funds are utilized for the priority needs of the community. I will explore how to use priority based budgeting when creating a budget and working with City Council to prioritize the use of valuable taxpayer dollars. This tool can help Lansing increase its own level of accountability and transparency by allowing the community to better understand how dollars and resources are being allocated.
City Services and Infrastructure Vision Advisory Committee:
This Advisory Committee includes individuals that have been employed by the City, have served as an elected official for the City, or have served on a committee or commission of the City. Many others not listed also provided feedback and input. This vision will continue to evolve throughout the campaign.