JACKSON, Mich. — A Jackson City Council member who says she was 'just trying to grow' the city found herself in hot water with her colleagues.
Laura Dwyer-Schlecte is answering questions, 18 of them in fact, related to allegations that she used her position on the council to influence investors to purchase property from the city, a deal that would have paid her a commission.
Now she's being accused of violating Jackson city ethics code as well as the state's Open Meetings Act.
On Dec. 8th, one council member expressed concern that what she was doing with investment group Detroit Rock Solid was wrong.
“Jeromy Alexander loudly objected, saying I was unethical for doing this, and he proceeded to file a complaint against me," said Dwyer-Schlecte.
Dwyer-Schlecte insists she's been very truthful with the five other council members throughout the process.
“I was above board," said Dwyer-Schlecte. "Every single person that we talked to. Every meeting that I started, I said ‘I’m meeting with the developer.’ They’re paying me and I’m abstaining from any discussion or vote at the City Council meeting. And even contractors will tell you I said that."
The city purchased the Masonic Temple and the former Vermeulen's building in 2017 for $1. Jackson officials had every intention of seeing these historical buildings renovated and it looked like they were close to making it a reality before things unraveled after some council members were uncomfortable with the handling of the situation.
"It was told to me that they felt the deal was tainted," Dwyer-Schlecte said. "I disagree. I think it should have been council’s decision whether or not they wanted to keep that deal on the table.”
Now, plans are for the Jackson School of Arts to occupy the old Vermeulen's building. The Masonic Temple sits empty.
“It would have brought 19 market rate apartments," said Dwyer-Schlecte. "A grocery store. On the mezzanine of the Masonic, the developers were going to do small kiosks for start up businesses to rent space at a really reasonably rate. There would have been a couple takeaway restaurants..a start up brewery in there.”
At a special meeting Tuesday night, council members voted to ask the state attorney general's office whether the council should investigate her involvement with Detroit Rock Solid any further and whether it violated the city of Jackson ethics code.
“I believe this is a serious accusation. We’re talking about a public official putting $25000 in their pocket in a backroom that was not disclosed to the public. That is a serious, very grave offense that should be properly investigated by the property authorities," said Ward 2 city council member Jeromy Alexander.
During the meeting, vice mayor and ward one council member Arlene Robinson expressed disappointment in the whole process.
“It’s just one of those things that kind of bothers me as an individual. I don’t know, people are going to make and there’s no one here that hasn’t made one and you know I’ll just leave it at that. We all are human and we are going to make a mistake," said Robinson.
Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies said, "I frankly think that the people from what I've heard from feedback that the people want us to set this aside and I've think we’ve done so putting it into the hands of the attorney general’s office and get back to, frankly back to work. Working on fixing the problems that we continue to face.”
Dobies echoes the official statement from the city of Jackson on the next steps in this situation, which said, “City administration is following the directives of the City Council that were set out at Tuesday night’s special meeting. The City Attorney’s Office is now preparing documents related to the ethics investigation to send to the State Attorney General for review. While this ethics investigation is under review, City administration awaits any possible actions from the Attorney General before commenting any further.”
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