City Attorney: City Manager Can Use City Publications to Sway Voters

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 8:59 pm
Alice Dreger

In a memo to City Council today, City Attorney Thomas M. Yeadon has advised that the City Manager may use taxpayer-funded City publications to try to sway voters on ballot measures and even elections. According to Yeadon during a discussion at City Council this evening, the City Manager may even use his "Manager's Message" column in the City newsletter Dialog to endorse a candidate for governor if he so wishes.

At issue is City Manager George Lahanas's "Manager's Message" column in the most recent issue of Dialog. There Lahanas wrote, "As East Lansing's registered voters go to the polls on November 4, 2014, it is my hope that they will consider voting 'yes' on the ballot proposal for the 'Sale of City-Owned Property' located in the Park District Planning Area."

According to Yeadon, Lahanas is not in violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. Yeadon's memo to Council, dated today, states that:

The "Campaign Finance Act was intended to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for the purpose of advancing or defeating a specific ballot proposal. In this instance, becasue this [Dialog] was a regularly published newsletter, no public funds were expended by simply inserting the City Manager's views on this issue into his regular 'Manager's Message' column." According to Yeadon, because tax money was already committed to paying to print and mail Dialog, "no public funds were expended."

Additionally, Yeadon said in his memo to Council that "the article on the topic was limited to the dissemination of factual information which is also specifically authorized by statute."

Asked after the City Council meeting for her thoughts on the matter, Councilwoman Ruth Beier said, "Whether it is legal or not, I think it is inappropriate for the City Manager to use a city publication to support a question or a candidate that is on the ballot."


For background on the ballot measure regarding sale of city properties, see ELi's report from Chris Root.

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