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Gem Theater

Detroit was at the heart of CNU 24 last week!

For the past two years, the League partnered with Congress for the New Urbanism to bring their 24th international convention to our doorstep. League staffers held positions on the host committee and participated in legacy charrettes for four Metro Detroit neighborhoods, all in preparation for last week. That’s when experts in urban planning, design, architecture, and related disciplines gathered from around the globe to learn from each other and – in this case – discover the story of Detroit’s transformation.

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Detroit Opera House

I’m a native Detroiter and have seen the city go through some tough times, but I was truly impressed with the beauty, vibrancy, and positive energy I encountered. I was doubly-impressed when I heard the enthusiastic exclamations of CNU attendees from as far away as Ecuador and Australia. “The Opera House is gorgeous!” “I can’t wait to ride the People Mover!” “Campus Martius is so cool!” “Detroit is much nicer than I expected!”

For four days, the schedule was jam-packed with sessions, workshops, forums, and tours. Participants could head to the beautiful Gem Theater to learn about the principles of new urbanism from Andres Duany, one of the founding members of Congress for the New Urbanism. Walk across the street to the spectacular Detroit Opera House to hear about Detroit’s history and revitalization or how new forms of transportation are changing the way people move around their cities. Or hop on a tour bus and experience the wonders of downtown Detroit architecture, America’s best small city (Ann Arbor), Birmingham’s new urban downtown, or Windsor’s Old Sandwich Towne, one of the oldest established communities in Ontario.

Evenings were full of activity, too, including Thursday’s Charter Awards ceremony, which recognized exemplary work in architectural, landscape, urban, and regional design. Two Detroit-based companies – Bedrock Detroit and Hamilton Anderson Associates – won the grand prize for the design of their Brush Park project.  At the ceremony, the 2016 Congress Legacy Project teams also presented their final reports.

Legacy Projects

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Hazel Park Vernor Crossing Grandmont-Rosedale Pontiac

All the sessions were as varied in topic as they were in location, but I found that a common theme ran through many of them: putting people first. We were reminded of an important Jane Jacobs quote: “People make cities and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

In a session on urbanism and sustainability, Kaid Benfield, senior counsel for environmental strategies at Placemakers, emphasized that we need to aspire to build places people love or they won’t be sustained. In a session on new transportation options, Russell Preston, design director of Principle Group, advised the audience that they should think about people and place first and weave transportation options around them. In a session on the revitalization of Detroit’s neighborhoods, Quincy Jones, executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, shared that people are committed to their neighborhoods and will fight for them.

Be-The-Change-300x200But perhaps most importantly, in a session on Detroit’s food and food justice movement, Devita Davison, marketing and communications director for FoodLab Detroit, passionately told the audience that Detroit has its problems, but Detroiters also have hope. It’s up to all of us to be the change we want to see.

 

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Baskin-Robbins Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant IHOP

What??? You don’t see Baskin-Robbins, IHOP, and Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant in these photos??? I do!

I grew up in the North Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale area. The section of Grand River Avenue between Warwick and Evergreen was my commercial playground. In my mind’s eye, my friends and I are riding our bikes up to Baskin-Robbins – almost every day the first summer it opened. After school, we’re walking over to Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant and ordering up a Coke and fries at the counter. And on Saturday mornings, we’re heading to IHOP with our families to try out all their scrumptious varieties of pancakes and syrup.

2016-4-15-Charette-audience-300x200That’s what I was thinking about as I attended the April 15 kick-off of the CNU Legacy Charette for Grandmont Rosedale. It was held at Bushnell Congregational Church – where I enjoyed many junior high dances with Kathy, Joann, Zachary and all my other Cooke School friends. Some of the people in attendance remembered those days, but all were interested in making that stretch of Grand River Avenue vibrant again.

2016-4-15-Charrette-presenters-300x200More than 50 residents and business owners attended the session, which began with a presentation by two urban planners from Florida-based Dover, Kohl & Partners. The project called “Making Grand River Avenue more walkable, bikeable and accessible” was lead by Dover, Kohl & Partners and local support came from Design Team Plus, Hall Planning & Engineering Inc. The project sponsor was the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and CNU.

The first order of business was to gauge the type of commercial corridor street design that appealed to the audience. The planners presented photos of a variety of street scenes, which people could vote on with electronic clickers. Not surprisingly, streets with attractive storefronts, lush landscaping, wide sidewalks, and safe crosswalks were the hands-down winners.

Next, the participants met in small groups to discuss their desires for Grand River Avenue. With large aerial maps of the area at each table, the men and women got busy sketching out ideas and creating lists of their top five priorities. After an hour, each group presented their priority lists, which contained a lot of similarities. Among the most common themes were:

  • Calming measures for Grand River, such as a boulevard or angled parking in the median
  • Safe, well-marked crosswalks
  • Attractive storefronts and interesting businesses to draw people to the area
  • Wide sidewalks
  • Beautification features, such as landscaping and public art

The public design workshop continued throughout the weekend. Now, the planners from Dover, Kohl & Partners will review all the input they gathered and presented a more refined plan at CNU 24 in June.

by Melanie Piana, Ferndale City Council

ferndale-paid-parental-leave_-stock-photo-300x200I’ve watched my friends, women and men, prepare for a new baby with joy and excitement, and also concern about how much time they would have to bond and physically heal before heading back to work. Like many women in the workforce, my friends scraped together their paid time off with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows them to take up to 12 weeks unpaid without fear of losing their job. In many instances, my female friends returned to work 4 to 6 weeks or less after giving birth, while their mates took off only a handful of days.

Who can afford to take unpaid days when a new baby or child arrives?  It’s the worst possible time not to earn a paycheck: diapers, baby food and child care all cost money. As a result, people are forced to accrue personal debt just so they can adequately tend to such a significant life-changing event.

Although my husband and I do not have children, my friends’ choices about what is right for them typically equate to not enough time to heal, bond with the baby, and readjust to life’s new routines. For cities, the general policy for maternity leave is determined by how much paid time off an employee can accrue. Based on years employed, the time off expected and allowed for maternity leave is unequally taken between males and females. Women take more, whereas men take less.

The private sector knows that flexible work environments are essential to achieving work-life balance, promoting female leadership, and increasing gender equality. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon understand that paid parental leave increases options for women and families, and these types of benefits are highly sought by the next generation of workers.

Cities should be centers for talent attraction and cultivation, too. Who are the best stewards of taxpayer dollars? I argue that it’s talented people who innovate and solve complex and ingrained problems. Striking the right balance to provide taxpayer value and providing the right mix of benefits to attract workers is just as important in the public as the private sector.

Why this policy now?

We saw a need for a local government to become a more friendly workplace, to offer balance for families, and to show that our city cares about families and how policies can make a difference in a community.

Historically, talented workers were attracted to the benefits offered by cities even though the pay was typically a bit lower than the private sector. Now that most government entities share the same benefit packages of the private companies (401K / no pension), we need to be more aggressive in recruiting quality employees. Currently, the City requires that all leave related to pregnancy come from the employee; for those employees that don’t have enough vacation and sick saved up either would need to come back early or take their leave unpaid.

The City’s new policy will now provide up to 12 weeks paid time off for maternity, paternity, and adoption care leave — six weeks of new parental leave plus up to six weeks matched hour to hour paid time off. I encouraged Ferndale’s City Council to take this action.

The basic protections of the FMLA are not enough to establish a strong workforce in today’s competitive talent attraction and retention environment. Flexible work environments provide employees better opportunities to balance life circumstances. Ferndale focuses on teamwork, improve work-life balance, and increase employee productivity.

The municipal financial crisis necessitated Ferndale review how it delivers services and manages internal operations. Yes, we provide the same services, but City Council and City administration dissected how we delivered those services, and then figured out a way to improve quality and lower or maintain cost. As a result of continuous improvement and strategic investments, the city’s internal culture began to change, too. City Hall is not just a nine-to-five operation, especially with 24-hour access to online services.

With an eye toward a more flexible work environment, Ferndale’s paid family leave policy should employee turnover, job satisfaction, and overall productivity. It positions City administration to attract and retain talent to leadership positions. The new policy preserves working mothers’ income, thereby reducing economic disparities for women who are forced to choose between time at home with the baby or a paycheck and contributes to closing the gender wage gap between men and women.  Ferndale is known for acceptance and promotion of diversity. The new policy reinforces our strong community-wide commitment to diversity, acceptance, and progress.

I’m ecstatic that City Council unanimously approved this new policy, and I look forward to strengthening our support of women and families.

I express gratitude to our City Manager, April Lynch, and Jenny Campos, Human Resource Director at the City of Ferndale, for working closely with me to develop a policy that works for everyone.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015-2016-bannerAs the year draws to a close, we have been reflecting on the League’s accomplishments in 2015. We love where you live, so we’ve been working hard to represent and serve the needs of our member communities in a variety of areas. From our advocacy efforts in Lansing and Washington, D.C. to our placemaking initiative, Legal Defense Fund, talent attraction, crowdfunding, risk management, and our vast array of information, resources, and training, we have done our best to make sure your voices are heard and you have the tools you need to lead your communities. As you read through some of our accomplishments for 2015, rest assured that plans are already in motion to make 2016 an even more successful year.

Legislative Activity

School-Bus-on-Bad-Roads-Potholes-small-for-web-300x199One of the top news stories out of Lansing this year was Governor Snyder’s signing of a long-term road funding package in November, following the defeat of Proposal 1 back in May. But there were many other noteworthy accomplishments in 2015 by the League’s advocacy staff in Lansing and Washington, D.C.

Transportation funding also was a hot topic in D.C., and a major long-term package, called the FAST Act, was signed into law by President Obama earlier this month. Of course, the major national issue in 2016 will be the presidential election, and the League is an active supporter of the Cities Lead 2016 platform led by the National League of Cities.

Back in Michigan, other legislation positively impacting our municipalities includes bills allowing for training reciprocity to out-of-state firefighters; cleaning up the personal property tax (PPT) implementation process; establishing the March Presidential Primary as the election date for local ballot questions; extending the Commercial Rehabilitation Act; expanding recreation authorities; clarifying rental inspections; and changing portions of the Mobile Home Commission Act. Some of these bills have been signed into law and others continue to move through the process.

There are also numerous other issues in which the League was very engaged in 2015 and will continue to be into 2016 , including the Dark Stores Big Box property tax loophole; local speed limits; and a shift in broadband relocation costs to communities.

In addition, throughout 2015 the League has been extremely active behind the scenes informing lawmakers about the state’s broken municipal finance system and the need for change. Stay tuned for more on this major initiative in 2016. For all the latest legislative news be sure to frequently visit the League’s Inside 208 blog here.

PlacePlans

This year, our PlacePlans team not only took on seven new projects around the state, but we also started to see previous years’ projects coming to life. Even as we saw successes from past projects, we continued to refine our process and expand the range of projects we took on to meet our cities’ needs.

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Four of the 2015 PlacePlans maintained our partnership with the MSU School of Planning, Design, and Construction, and built on our shared experience from the past two years. We worked with Benton Harbor, Boyne City, Lathrup Village, and Monroe to develop concepts for public spaces in their downtowns.  In two more cities, Niles and Traverse City, PlacePlans brought in experts from Michigan’s private sector to look at how public spaces and new development could work in concert to create great places. And in Saginaw, we found the need was not about design, but about governance. We facilitated conversations between the various organizations investing in and around downtown to help identify shared priorities and opportunities to support each other’s efforts.

Across these projects, we looked for ways to get more people involved and build more connections to resources that could help the cities move forward. We added local steering committees to our design projects to help us plan outreach and help city staff carry the projects forward after the grant term; we put together “pop-up” events to support planning efforts by taking ideas out to the actual spaces and showing people how they could work;  and we worked closely with partners in MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program and Public Spaces Community Places crowdfunding program to help our cities get a head start on implementing their designs.

Finally, we worked with five of the cities from earlier iterations of PlacePlans, providing mini-grants to support implementation of their plans. These projects range from the construction of a commercial kitchen near Kalamazoo’s farmer’s market that can support small prepared-food businesses to the creation of developer information packages for key redevelopment sites in Sault Sainte Marie.

Over the last three years, the PlacePlans team has worked with 22 cities across the state—and with thousands of residents and businesses in those communities. We’re now seeing streets transformed, vacant properties rehabilitated, and stronger community ties as a result. There’s no doubt 2016 will see the visions for these places continue to take shape. For our part, we look forward to continuing to learn from these cities’ efforts and to sharing those lessons with the rest of our communities.

PlacePOP

Group-in-chairs-300x200This year, the League launched PlacePOP, an exciting new program focused on civic engagement and tactical placemaking. For a small fee, the League works closely with local partners to develop engaging, temporary improvements to spaces that can improve aesthetics, strengthen community connections, and catalyze future development. So far, the League has partnered with a number of communities with projects ranging from imagining public plazas, to building parklets that temporarily narrow wide streets, to activating vacant storefronts with pop-up retail. For more information and to schedule an activity in your community, visit PlacePOP.

Awards

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2015 MSAE Diamond Award

The League’s placemaking work not only is transforming Michigan communities, but it’s also becoming a nationally recognized model throughout the nation and world. The League and our staff received multiple awards in 2015 to acknowledge the tremendous efforts being done in the area of placemaking and truly showing that “We Love Where You Live.” The League won a Diamond Award from the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) for our PlacePlans program in the innovative collaboration category for associations with budgets of $1 million and greater. The League also received a Silver Award for its Review magazine in the magazine publishing category. The League’s magazine also won a Gold MarCom award from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. And in June of this year, the League’s John LaMacchia was named a Rising Leader in 2015 by MSAE.

Information and Resources

The League has been hard at work in 2014-2015 to build the information and resources our members need in support of their daily operations. In addition to our sample ordinances, resolutions, and policies on a wide range of municipal topics, we create and maintain one-of-a-kind databases and informational resources.

For example, did you know that the League conducts an annual statewide survey of pay and benefits?  We collect pay and benefit information on 140+ municipal classifications and make that data available through an online database. This type of information is very useful to members as they prepare budgets, research for labor negotiations, or otherwise assess the comparability of their compensation structures.

The database easily exports to Excel and includes information on population, region/county, number of employees in each classification, and a variety of other useful details. This enables the user to perform customized analyses to meet their objectives.  The survey is also helpful in developing benchmarks. For example, the average base pay range maximum for a full-time police officer in the state is $51,345 (147 respondents).  Breaking that down by community population reveals some considerable differences:

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The 2015-2016 survey is currently underway, so be sure to participate so you have access to this valuable data set.

The League also compiled a comprehensive database of our members’ Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) and Pension liabilities. We’ve built the database to include 335 members, and completed additional “deep-dive” analysis on the 100 largest employers, which represents over 90 percent of League members’ employees. Like the pay and benefits dataset, this will be a useful tool for members to use in benchmarking and budgeting.

Legal Defense Fund

curb-lawn-300x200The League’s Legal Defense Fund provides support to communities in Michigan involved in significant litigation or other forms of controversy. One of the most important cases we assisted with this year is Shoemaker v The City of Howell, which was recently decided in favor of municipalities. The issue at hand was the maintenance of the ara of land between the street and sidewalk – variously known as the curblawn, outlawn, or curb-strip. A homeowner in the city of Howell refused to take care of the curblawn after the city finished a streetscape project, which resulted in one of the homeowner’s trees being removed. The homeowner sued the city. The District Court sided with the landowner. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgement and found in favor of the city due to the legitimate governmental interest in the public health and aesthetics.

We also provided support in Deffert v Moe, a case involving open carry of a firearm. Grand Rapids police officers responded to a 911 call regarding a man with a gun. Officer Deffert thought the man appeared to be mentally unstable, so he ordered him on the ground at gunpoint, removed his firearm, then released him after determining that he had a valid permit to carry. The man field suit against the city claiming violation of his first, second, fourth, and fourteenth amendment rights; assault and battery; and false imprisonment. The court found the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain the man long enough to make sure that he was not a threat to himself and others.

Building the Talent Pipeline

Most discussions about talent development in public management start with a somber description of one generation headed for retirement while younger generations pursue careers outside of government and the damage to development positions done by the recession.  True, we’re witnessing a gap in available managers that is in part due to both trends.  But even so, it is an exciting time to be in talent recruitment.  When circumstances don’t allow us to do what we’ve always done, we end up doing something new.

diverse-job-interview-322x200There may not be as many opportunities to start out as an assistant manager or management analyst, so we’re finding candidates from other areas of local government.  Through the League’s Executive Search Service, we have completed 14 searches across the state in 2015.  Nine placements are first-time managers or new to the field, and five of the nine came from public planning and/or economic development backgrounds. This year, 29 percent of our placements were women – which, if you follow the #13percent movement, is more than twice the share of women in the profession.  Even with nearly half of our applicants from out of state, all but two of our placements were from Michigan.  In a time where managers are going to need to innovate to move communities forward, we’re looking forward to seeing what the new managers will create.

As for the challenge of attracting emerging professionals to local government as a career path, we’ve partnered with the Michigan Local Government Management Association (MLGMA) to engage the Master of Public Administration and Policy programs across the state.  Through increasing communication, enhancing student opportunities to attend conferences, and developing resources to bring new talent into the profession.  Although millennials may not be flocking to local government, those the enter the profession tend to stay.*  We’re currently developing resources to connect students with internship and projects in order to give them exposure to public service and build capacity for communities.

Our efforts to recruit and encourage the best leaders for our communities will continue, and we’re expecting next year to be even more exciting!

* Understanding Millennials in Government, Peter Viechnicki. Deloitte University Press. 

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon, and the League has been helping communities take advantage of this unique placemaking tool. We’ve partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Patronicity on Public Spaces Community Places, a crowdfunding initiative that matches funds for local placemaking projects in cities and villages.The current funding success ratio for the 52 identified projects is a whopping 98 percent, with over $1.7 million coming via crowdfunding and another $1.4 million via matching grants from MEDC and MSHDA. None of the projects are large enough by themselves to change the world, but their cumulative effect is paying dividends across the state.

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Rendering of Keyworth Stadium

Michigan’s new investment crowdfunding law has made other types of placemaking projects possible. The law enables people in Michigan to legally invest their own money in local businesses with anticipation of a return. It’s not like the popular Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaigns that are simple donations for a cause, it is an actual platform for investment in small businesses. The League believes the law provides entrepreneurs and start-ups with an exciting new avenue for raising funds. Detroit City Football Club is one such organization taking advantage of this opportunity. They are currently running a community investment campaign to restore the historic Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck as their new home base. An investment in projects like the DCFC’s stadium restoration checks a number of important boxes for a community: recreation, historic preservation, social entrepreneurship, and community (re)building. We will continue to look for ways that crowdfunding in its varied forms can help Michigan communities thrive.

Risk Management

risk-mgmt-firemen-300x200The Risk Management Services Division administers two statewide municipal insurance programs: the Michigan Municipal League Workers’ Compensation Fund and the Michigan Municipal League Liability and Property Pool. The Workers’ Compensation Fund has served our members for almost 40 years. It has grown to over 900 members, with $140 million in assets, protecting 2,500 injured workers each year.

The Liability and Property Pool has 415 community members, $80 million in assets, and handles over 1,200 property, liability and police-related claims and lawsuits each year.

Our efforts to reduce losses, specialized claims service, and careful program management allowed us to return $11 million in dividends to our members last year – over $220 million since the program’s inception.