The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government held its second Representative Roundtable discussion Tuesday focusing on the role of Ann Arbor’s local government and the importance of including voices from all types of communities. The first discussion of the series was held on Monday.
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and Michigan House Democratic Rep. Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Ann Arbor, as well as Councilmembers Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, and Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, were in attendance. Originally, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., was scheduled to attend, but was unable to due to her required presence at a House of Representatives vote on the National Apprenticeship Act.
LSA senior Morgan Solomon, government relations coordinator for CSG, opened the conversation by saying she hoped students could have the opportunity to converse with different types of local elected officials. According to Solomon, the event would serve as an introduction for students to see the impact of government on their daily lives.
Solomon noted students should feel comfortable talking with their local elected officials.
“These events have the chance to bring the influence of local government and how, in some cases, local government makes a much larger impact than what the federal government does for students at Michigan,” Solomon said.
Solomon also said it is currently an important time for students to be heard by the people that represent them.
After each official gave brief introductions, Public Policy senior Amanda Kaplan, CSG president, moderated the question-and-answer session. The discussion began with questions about diversity, equity and inclusion within government representation.
Briggs opened the DEI discussion by acknowledging the importance of remembering minority voices.
“It’s about whose voices are at the table and whose voices are we missing,” Briggs said. “On local government, who we hear from the most are older, white property owners, so we have a challenge to make sure the policies we are enacting don’t just reflect those desires.”
Irwin agreed with Briggs, also commenting on the pitfalls of focusing on a majority group’s desires. Irwin said it is important to continue checking on these issues of DEI.
“We need to be honest with ourselves about how far we still need to go even after we’ve gotten the right people in the room,” Irwin said.
Lasinski touched on approaching issues regarding DEI with intentionality.
“It is always that intentional outreach,” Lasinski said. “My district is much less diverse on the west side of Washtenaw, but as a leader, that’s where the intentionality of bringing in different communities to get different perspectives comes in.”
Representatives then discussed subjects such as the affordability of college and climate change. They recognized the expense of college is a burden to college students, and briefly called attention to students’ role in combating climate change. Students need to be pushing for the implementation of building more sustainable communities locally, they said.
The conversation then shifted towards how elected officials can still meet the needs of their constituents with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are benefits in terms of COVID, like connecting with people and making things more accessible in some ways,” Briggs said. “I also think it’s important to be recognizing that people are under incredible amounts of stress right now.”
Disch said it is important to maintain services for the public, saying even though government revenue is down, people’s needs are up.
“We need to be giving people more services, not fewer,” Disch said. “And particularly as people are using our parks and our sidewalks more, we need to make sure those things are safe for them and making sure there’s not ice everywhere when people want to go for their walks because that’s their only form of exercise.”
The discussion took a final shift towards student civic engagement within local government, how students can begin to get involved and how to stay informed about what is going on at the local and state level.
Briggs said it is more convenient now than ever for students to engage with the local government.
“The best thing is to think about what you’re passionate about,” Briggs said. “And you can reach out. That’s one of the great things about local government, you can pick up the phone and talk to anybody you want to.”
Disch agreed with Briggs, also encouraging attendees to find out more about their local officials.
“Figure out what your issue is and go to the city website,” Disch said. “And if you’re really brave, sit in on a council meeting.”
Daily Staff Reporter Madeleine Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.
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