Every 6 months or so I update my continuing story on Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero's "City Administrative Account." It is a 527 account, getting its name from Section 527 of the IRS Code. He has had it since he became mayor in 2006. In that time, he has raised $350,270 tax free and spent $301,410, mostly on food and drink. My last report was February 7 of this year. The full, ongoing story is here.
In the last 6 months, he took in $8,500 and spent $6,486. I'll get to the details on that later, but first I'd like to say that this 527 account stinks - really stinks. It started out as a means of raising money for inaugural events and the expenses of holding office. Then, in 2009, it turned into his own personal slush fund with meals, fuel and a $500 a month car rental making up the bulk of expenditures. (See expenditures by date.) Contributions in amounts from $500 to $10,000 flowed in from Lansing businesses, law firms and unions. (See contributions by employer.) The money comes in faster than he can spend it. As of June 30, the account has a balance of $48,860.
This isn't the only troubling thing about our mayor's behavior. Remember when he made the news last August by passing out literature at a polling place in Okemos opposing Ingham County Commission Deb Nolan? In my story on that I also reported on my investigation into the $4000 in illegal campaign contributions he made to his preferred city council candidates through two of his campaign workers.
In a September 8 story, I found a pattern in contributions from City and Board of Water and Light employees to the campaigns of Bernero and those same city council candidates. Apparently, the suggested contribution was $300 from City employees, $100 from BWL employees.
We tend to overlook questionable behavior in leaders who are making our lives better, taking us in the right direction. But now we must consider selling the Board of Water and Light to pay off $680 million in unfunded pension and health care liabilities, over two-thirds of which piled up since Virg became mayor.
Will a viable candidate step up to run against him in 2017? Possibly, but he or she will have an uphill fight. Virg has the familiarity to voters that comes from holding office for 12 years and - according to his most recent campaign report - a $50,000 war chest.
There is, however, another way to vote him out. It didn't occur to me until I got a call asking my opinion about selling the Board of Water and Light. (See LSJ story on poll.) One of the dozen or so questions I was asked was whether I would consider a city manager-type city government rather than the strong mayor structure we now have. I don't remember my answer, but the idea has grown on me since. We could get rid of Virg simply by changing the City Charter. We'd also eliminate all further conflict between the city council and the mayor, since the city manager would work for the council.
Or instead of a city manager, we could do as East Lansing does. In East Lansing (see Charter), the only elected officials are the 5 city council members. Elections are held every 4 years. Immediately after the election, the council chooses one of its members to be mayor. The mayor has no veto power: "He or she shall exercise only such powers as this Charter, other law, or the Council shall specifically confer upon or require . . . "
According to the Lansing City Charter, all we need is petition signatures of 5% of registered voters to place a charter amendment before the voters.
Now, back to the latest report submitted for Virg's City Administrative Account. (To see the report for yourself, go to this page on the IRS' website. Check the box for Form 8872. In the box for Employer Identification Number (EIN), enter 20-3950788 and click Submit Basic Search. Then click "City Administrative Account".) There were only 5 contributions:
I believe that Riverview Associates is the family that owns Omar's Showbar and The Exchange; names attached to previous contributions were Doug Johns and Lewis D. Johns. At $11,500, they are 7th on the list of biggest contributors. Accident Fund is 5th at $14,500, DLZ is 10th at $8,000, Jackson National Life is 12th at $7,000 and Fishbeck is 27th at $4,000.
The list of expenditures for the period is here. As with the previous report, Juice Nation at 111 S. Washington Square accounted for the most purchases (28), although the purchase amounts were small. They've been a favorite of Virg going back to 2010, when their name was Eden's Juice. Meals, in which I have included juice and coffee, accounted for 89 of 125 expenditures. And there were 11 donations, showing that Virg can be generous with other people's money:
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