Smoky times in East Lansing.

It's been a big week in ELi reporting.

Smoky times in East Lansing.
ELi file photo of an outdoor fire. Currently there is a ban on outdoor fires in East Lansing.

Life in East Lansing kept moving this week even as some folks took care to limit exposure to air made harmful by distant wildfires. At ELi, we published a LOT of news, most of it centered on East Lansing’s government.

Yesterday evening, ELi’s Alice Dreger and Lucas Day teamed up to bring the news of a Friday-afternoon surprise: Council’s agenda for next week is showing three proposed changes to the City Charter, all of them implicating Council elections. Check out the report.

Meanwhile, three people have confirmed so far that they’re running for East Lansing’s City Council’s three open seats – Dan Bollman, Mark Meadows, and Noel Garcia – as Alice reported yesterday. The deadline for candidacy filing is six weeks away.

Get the story.

Luke attended this week’s meeting of East Lansing’s Independent Police Oversight Commission (ELIPOC) and picked up a quick reference there from Councilmember Dana Watson about what’s going on with the search for a permanent city manager. Watson serves as Council’s liaison to the commission.

"I did just want to state,” Watson told the commission about the search, “we're hoping to have someone come September, or come around Labor Day, and that's just an update for you all. I was asked about the timeline of things, and the timeline is hopefully trending towards that."

Luke reported at ELi’s website this week that City Council decided Tuesday to deny an earlier opening time for a Starbucks with a drive-thru planned for Trowbridge Road and also tabled a resolution to use federal funds to give retention bonuses to city employees. (That's now on the Tuesday agenda upcoming.) The outcome of both votes surprised our reporting team, based on what had happened in the lead-ups. Get the details of the meeting in Luke’s report.

Get the story.

Luke also brought us a special report and news analysis this week looking at two lawsuits brought against the City of East Lansing, both involving First Amendment claims. One is ongoing six years after the initial filing and has so far cost local taxpayers almost $300,000. The other was resolved almost immediately, costing just $3,172. Why the differences – and what do these suits have in common with regard to what they tell us about national politics shaping local regulations? Check it out.

East Lansing resident John Metzler is being honored by the Peace Education Center (PEC) at its annual meeting today (Saturday, June 10). Metzler will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts to promote peace. Peacemaker of the Year Awards will be presented to Ody Norkin for providing medical supplies to Ukraine and to Willye Bryan, who founded the Justice League of Greater Lansing and is involved in a reparations program. Learn more in this ELi report by Luke.

Alice brought two long-form reports for us this week, the first being a look at what we learned from East Lansing’s weeks-long budget talks. Interim City Manager Randy Talifarro says it’s time to grow the city’s workforce beyond the vacancies already existing, and the state may be granting East Lansing upwards of $7 million to help with its pension debt problem. Find out what else was revealed in the talks.

Alice also brought us a deep investigative piece on nonprofit charities established and/or run out of East Lansing’s City Hall. The piece has generated a lot of commentary about transparency (or lack thereof), decision-making processes in the city and the use of municipal resources. As is our habit, ELi shows you not just what was found but also the written records obtained in the investigation. Find it all here.

Alice has been working long distance for us this week as she has been in Washington, D.C., attending two conferences, the Collaborative Journalism Summit and the annual conference of the Institute for Nonprofit News. At INN Days, Alice presented with Eden Prairie Local News Publisher Steve Schewe on hyperlocal nonprofit public service news, drawing from the pair’s recently-published report on the subject. At both conferences, she’s been gathering up information, resources and connections for ELi’s teamwork.

The smoke hit code purple in D.C., while here in East Lansing it “only” reached code red. As we wait for rain and East Lansing remains under a no-burn order from the fire department, you may be wondering how wildfire smoke can harm human health even when the fire is hundreds of miles away. Our nonprofit news colleagues at The Conversation (who were also at INN Days) asked a toxicologist to explain for us all. Read that here.

What’s coming up?

The highly-anticipated pickleball courts at Patriarche Park are scheduled to formally open on June 15 at 2 p.m. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony featuring speakers recognizing those who were instrumental in making the pickleball project happen. Watch for a fun look at the local pickleball craze coming early next week in a story from our reporter Mya Gregory.

The new pickleball courts at Patriarche Park. (Julie Seraphinoff for ELi)

It’ll be a busy week in city government next week with meetings planned for the City Council, Planning Commission, Human Rights Commission, Library Board of Trustees and Arts Commission. Find the agendas (when they post) here, and find our story about Council's surprise agenda here.

The East Lansing School Board is set to meet Monday, June 12. The posted agenda shows planned presentations on STEAM and the district’s budget, with a formal public hearing on the budget. The consent agenda calls for hiring Sara Thompson as a conditional hire for high school and middle school English and theater, while Emma Surbrook is set to be hired as a social worker for Glencairn Elementary, Kylie Fritz as a third-grade teacher at Donley Elementary, and Shannon Austin as a speech and language pathologist at Red Cedar Elementary.

The school board is also set to approve a school trip to France and Spain and to approve a plan for the high school band and orchestra ensembles to head to Cleveland. Two policies are up for a vote including one on due process in cases of student discipline and another on use of animals for teaching purposes. The board will also vote on whether to continue the suspension of the athletic and theater pay-to-participate fees for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Find the whole agenda here.

The East Lansing Public Library has a slew of special events this week including a Teen Juneteenth Celebration on Monday, June 12. The Summer Reading Book Club will also focus on Juneteenth, and on Tuesday, June 13, the Books on Tap Book Club will reconvene at Reno’s East to talk about Sea of Tranquility. Then there’s Pajama Night Storytime for the little kids and Intro to 3D Design for the more mature. Check out the library’s full event offerings here.

Don’t forget that the East Lansing Farmer’s Market is now up and running every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Valley Court Park, the Aquatic Center is back open, and there are lots of ways to relax and games to play at Albert EL Fresco downtown.

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