CORRECTION: A story in yesterday’s edition of the Daily incorrectly stated a recent City Council ordinance restricted students in the Oxbridge and North Burns Park areas from parking in a lot. The ordinance applied to street parking in the area.
The Michigan Student Assembly’s External Relations Committee elected LSA sophomore Laura Van Hyfte as its liaison to City Council last night. The appointment is the first tangible result of MSA’s recent crusade to strengthen student influence in city government.
The liaison position, along with a proposal for a joint City Council-MSA committee by Council candidate Stephen Rapundalo, is one of two major recent efforts to forge channels for communication between the assembly and City Council. In the recent past, the Council has been viewed as supporting anti-student ordinances such as a ban on porch couches, limitations on street parking and fines for unkempt lawns.
MSA President Jesse Levine first introduced the idea for a liaison to the assembly last week, only to see it unexpectedly shot down in a voice vote. Levine, who originally wanted the liaison to head up a new commission, then negotiated with the ERC, which usually oversees relations with city government, to take the liaison position under its wing.
As MSA’s liaison, Van Hyfte, a former Michigan Daily news reporter, will be responsible for attending Council meetings and establishing communication between Council members and student representatives.
Van Hyfte said she was excited about her new position, which will last until next September. As a former Michigan Daily reporter and summer news editor, she said she has some familiarity with the issues facing students and City Council.
“It was getting hard to watch anti-student legislation get pushed through and introduced (to the Council),” Van Hyfte said. “Unless you have a liaison being visible, students are going to get ignored.”
Mike Forster, chair of the ERC, said he is confident MSA is moving in the right direction.
“I’m really excited that this position is being created,” Forster said. “We hope that this is first step in a long process of reconciliation with City Council, and a greater partnership between the students and the Council.”
Some have accused the Council of being secretive about important business, conducting much of its discussion in “special committees” outside of the regular biweekly Council sessions. As liaison, Van Hyfte is responsible for keeping up with all upcoming legislation in order to give MSA a chance to organize a response to legislation that could have an impact on students. Forster hopes this will mark the end of surprise ordinances like the parking permit restrictions, which the Council approved during the summer, to the ire of many students.
Rapundalo said he hopes the liaison will foster a better relationship with the students and the Council.
“Having a liaison is a great idea – any interaction that is established is better than, obviously, what is there now,” he said.
But Rapundalo expressed concern that the sheer volume of Council business could overwhelm anyone. He has proposed that Council create a separate formal committee of students and Council members to aid Van Hyfte in creating a constructive relationship.
Councilman Leigh Greden (D