Board approves ‘streamlined’ policy for outdoor restaurant seating, settlement in FOIA lawsuit


East Lansing City Council resumed a policy resolution which streamlines the process for restaurants in the city to request an extension of outdoor seating.

The resolution passed, 3-1, with Council Member George Brookover voting against. Mayor Ron Bacon was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Of note is one item that was not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting: a proposed contract to hire Robert Easterly as City Attorney.

Due to Bacon’s absence, this matter – which had already been postponed from February to Tuesday’s meeting – was not on the agenda. The proposed contract will reportedly return for review and potential approval by the Board on March 15 in a “discussion only” meeting.

Additionally, with the unanimous adoption of Tuesday’s consent agenda, the Board approved a settlement agreement relating to a lawsuit filed by attorney Mike Nichols over a Freedom of Information Act request. (FOIA).

Brookover, the lone opposition, is once again outvoted — this time on establishing administrative policy for outdoor seating approvals for restaurants.

The city council has passed a series of policy resolutions over the past few years in response to the pandemic, including those that have reduced administrative hurdles for restaurants seeking to temporarily expand outdoor seating. The general logic was that the relief in charges made it easier for restaurants to do business and provided more options for people to feel safe while patronizing restaurants in East Lansing.

It also aligns with many of the venue-making efforts underway in the city, such as Albert EL Fresco, which is set to return in late April or early May.

What was being pursued on Tuesday evening was an extension of this streamlining, which is currently in effect, until November 15. Prior to that end date, according to Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser, council will receive a permanent policy to streamline the administrative process for approving final site plan changes.

Zoom meeting screenshot

East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser at the October 27, 2021 Planning Commission meeting.

Brookover first asked Menser a number of questions about the origins of the policy change amid the pandemic, which Menser postponed in part because he only recently joined staff at the city of East Lansing after coming from Meridian Township.

Brookover also sought to clarify that capacity changes would not exceed the maximum capacity shown on the site plan. That’s the case, as Menser noted, there are a number of restaurants that are approved for a certain number of seats but actually have less.

Brookover asked if there was a staffing capability — either at the East Lansing Police Department or with city staff — to count the number of people in facilities to ensure they don’t did not exceed the approved capacity. Brookover also asked ELPD Captain Chad Connelly about the enforcement and patrolling of establishments.

Typically, there are patrols or controls of places that serve alcohol in the city, either by the ELPD or state-level agencies. Connelly said the headcount was part of that work in response to Brookover’s request. An establishment could still be reported to the authorities, too.

Ultimately, Brookover sought to change the policy to only last until August 30, saying it made sense throughout the summer, but not necessarily with Michigan students returning. State University in the fall and at the start of the football season.

Dylan Lees for ELi

George Brookover at the East Lansing City Council meeting on January 11, 2022.

But as has been the case in a number of votes since being sworn into the Council, Brookover was alone in his dissent and was outvoted.

The Council-approved settlement is the latest chapter in a 2020 Freedom of Information Act request from attorney Mike Nichols who is seeking a slew of documents – including personal devices of three then-Council members .

Nichols represented Andrew Stephenson, the ELPD officer at the center of two separate excessive force complaints in December 2019 and February 2020, respectively. The Washtenaw County District Attorney’s Office, which was tasked with investigating Stephenson’s actions, exonerated Stephenson.

Amid the fallout from these cases, Nichols filed a broad FOIA request on July 10, 2020, which sought detailed records from then-Mayor Ruth Beier, then-Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens, and Member of the Council, Jessy Gregg.

Gregg, being the only one of the three remaining board members – Beier and Stephens both later resigned, albeit for different reasons – voted to approve this deal which will involve the disclosure of certain personal text messages and other communications .

Dylan Lees for ELi

Jessy Gregg at the East Lansing City Council meeting on January 11, 2022.

As ELi previously reported on the FOIA lawsuit, Nichols requested phone records, text messages, emails, Internet browser logs, photos, movies, PowerPoint presentations, and more. He wanted copies of these documents from any device these three elected officials had used in connection with City business, including cell phones, personal computers, laptops and tablets personally purchased and provided. by the City. Nichols also requested copies of any conflict of interest disclosures made by Beier, Gregg or Stephens.

Under the terms of the now-approved settlement agreement, the City will pay $5,000 in attorney fees to Nichols and his attorney in the case, Josh Blanchard.

Additionally, the city will hand Nichols a slew of relevant documents regarding Andrew Stephenson, ELPD, and more.

The “sources” of said recordings are the same four things for each of Beier, Stephens and Gregg, respectively:

  • Personal cell phone;
  • Cell phone provided by the city;
  • Personal computer, laptop or tablet used for City business;
  • Computer, laptop or tablet provided by the City.

What Nichols is specifically looking for in these devices is set out in the settlement agreement, available here.

This article was last updated at 8:25 a.m.


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