mlppOn October 10, the Michigan League for Public Policy hosted a half-day forum, Race, Poverty & Policy: Creating an Equitable Michigan. We were blown away by many of the speakers and resources so we wanted to share a few with our members:

  • What is racial justice? – Keynote speaker and Race Forward President and Executive Director Rinku Sen defines racial justice as the “systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone.” She also gave some great pointers on how to talk about race by shifting the focus from an individual’s prejudice or intentions to the bigger question of what’s causing inequality and how are people impacted? Learn more from her presentation.
  • What’s the government’s role in achieving race & equity? – MLPP hosted an entire breakout session on this question and there’s still way more to talk about. The entire presentation was impactful, but we were most excited to share the work Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg is doing in his community with Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and the Government Alliance on Race & Equity. LEDA is leading an organizational system review of equity in Ottawa County’s HR policies and practices, as well as getting all 900 employees trained in cultural intelligence. View the session’s Powerpoint slides here and see Vanderberg’s portion towards the end.
  • Racial Equity Impact Assessment – Sen shared this important equity tool communities across the country are using to evaluate how government decisions and actions will impact racial and ethnic groups. For example, the Minnesota School Board requires an equity impact assessment to be performed before every policy and program is implemented. Similarly, the Oregon State Senate passed legislation in 2013 requiring the Criminal Justice Commission to issue a racial impact assessment when requested by a state legislator.

There’s so much more to say, and equity and inclusion is an area in which we should all be focusing our attention. Here at the League, we plan on bringing you more tools, speakers, discussion groups, and resources on this topic in the coming months and at future events. For now, check out our Review issue on equity from late 2015. Please also let us know what tools you’re looking for, topics you want help exploring, or discussions you want to host in your community. Feel free to comment below or email me directly at

rt_rising-tide-logo-600x250Pouring rain didn’t deter representatives from ten Project Rising Tide communities. They jumped in their cars and headed to the League’s Lansing office on Sept. 29 for a day full of enlightening sessions. The League and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation brought together expert speakers on everything from effective public service to talent attraction.

Project Rising Tide is a program established by Governor Snyder in 2015 – and administered by Michigan’s Talent and Economic Development (TED) team – to help economically challenged communities become better positioned for redevelopment opportunities. The mission of the program is to provide at-risk communities with the tools they need to design and build a successful economic framework. It supports vibrant, thriving communities to attract business investment and talent by creating a sustainable path toward economic stability and growth. The ten communities selected for the pilot program are: Central Lake, Charlotte, Evart, Grayling, Harrison, Hillsdale, Newberry, Paw Paw, and River Rouge.

Effective Public Service
Bob Slattery, DPW Director for the City of Burton, kicked off the day with a presentation on Effective Public Service. He emphasized four key areas that public officials need to focus on: attitude and action; roles and duties; teamwork, and sources of authority. Public officials need to exemplify high civility and ethics, develop trust, be knowledgeable of operations, and listen to their constituents. All city officials, staff and councilmembers need to be aware of and respect each other’s roles and responsibilities, project a positive image of the city, stay educated, and be prepared and professional. Everyone should act as a team and remember they’re there to serve the community. And perhaps most important, Slattery asked “If better local government doesn’t begin today, when will it begin? And if it doesn’t begin with me, with whom will it begin?

Navigating the Talent Pool in Local Government
April Lynch, Ferndale city manager, drew on her wealth of human resources experience for her presentation. She stressed that a city is technically a “business” with thousands of “customers” (residents). As such, city leaders should have the have the mindset of hiring quality talent. Attracting that quality talent has become more difficult because local government benefits aren’t as generous as they used to be. With that in mind, we need to provide services to make employees feel supported, valued, and that they have an opportunity for growth and development. In Ferndale, the city offers services like flexible work schedules, family friendly policies (Ferndale was the first Michigan city to offer paid parental leave), and The More You Learn, the More You Earn, a cross-training program that rewards motivated employees, contributes to their job growth, and ultimately provides better service to Ferndale residents.

Civic Engagement Strategies
The League’s Sarah Craft shared some of her experiences working with communities across the state on community engagement strategies. Engagement is not a cookie-cutter process, but rather can take a variety of creative forms. For example, a Vassar visioning event morphed into Vassar Vision Taste & Talk – a unique, outdoor event that combined two things most people love: food (from local restaurants) and talking!  There are several elements that go into making any engagement strategy successful: a steering committee (solicit a broad, diverse group of stakeholders); institutional partners (involve local businesses and nonprofits); visioning (decide what you want to accomplish); and marketing and communications (keep people updated often and celebrate successes).

Grant Writing
Julie Hales-Smith, a consultant with North Coast Community Consulting, says you never get anything if you don’t ask, so she advised the audience on how to ask for grants for community projects. Writing grants is very time-consuming, so the first step is to make sure it’s the right grant for your needs. Are you eligible? What’s required? Is it feasible? If the answer is yes, then identify your team, chart out all the steps, timeframes, and responsibilities. Above all else, follow the grant funder’s instructions exactly and get your proposal in on time. Once it’s submitted, work your contacts to see what their experience has been with the funder, and nurture your relationship with the funder.

Structuring the Project – The Local Perspective
Deborah Stuart, Mason city administrator, shared her experiences with development projects in her community. She said that Mason has had several new developments or redevelopments in recent years, which have been good for the city in many ways, but they haven’t added anything to the city’s general revenue. The status of the properties (brownfields, Land Bank properties, etc.) was such that the revenue went to other entities. However, the developments do increase the city’s costs as they have to provide them with services, such as police and fire. She urges that any development project be evaluated on a number of factors, including the cost/benefit ratio and the impact on local jobs. And don’t be afraid to negotiate the best deal for your community.






Calumet residents, supporters and business leaders participate in a successful visioning session in the village Monday.

Calumet residents, supporters and business leaders participate in a successful visioning session in the village Monday.

Two Upper Michigan communities are in the early planning stages of potential revitalization.

Scott MacInnes

Scott MacInnes

The Villages of Calumet and Baraga are each having public meetings this week as key first steps in forming new village master plans. The work is being supported by Michigan Municipal League Northern Michigan field consultant Scott MacInnes. Upward of 40 people attended a public visioning session in Calumet on Monday and Baraga’s event is tonight.

“I’ve been working closely with villages of Baraga and Calumet as both have relatively new management and no master plan or they haven’t had one in long long time,” said MacInnes, who is the former, long-time Houghton city manager. “We’re trying to get these communities to focus on what they want to be in the next 20 years. Both are losing population and need to turn their communities around.”

MacInnes was pleased with Monday’s turnout in Calumet and said people in both communities are excited about the visioning work, that started last fall with Michigan Technological University students conducting community surveys in both villages.

Calumet supporters share their ideas on ways to improve the Upper Peninsula community.

Calumet supporters share their ideas on ways to improve the Upper Peninsula community.


“We got a lot of good input from them,” MacInnes said of those attending Monday’s visioning session. “People are pretty excited about this planning.”

He said both communities are situated in the UP’s Keweenaw Peninsula near areas that are experiencing economic success, such as Houghton, Hancock and Copper Harbor. So it’s possible for Calumet and Baraga to also see a turnaround, but it starts with having a plan.

“There’s been nothing like this for quite a number of years and they’ve really been operating on a day-to-day basis. We got to figure out how to control the blight and start fixing up homes and encourage small businesses to move back in. Now hopefully we can turn this around.”

Calumet Village Administrator Rob Tarvis told the area’s Mining Gazette newspaper that he also was pleased with Monday’s event and said it will go a long way in improving the village for years to come.

The two meetings are being facilitated by Brad Neuman, educator with Michigan State University Extension, and he had attendees give comments at three stations – a map of assets in the village, a chart showing survey results of issues important to residents and a three-question survey asking residents, business owners and supporters for their visions for the village’s future. The questions were, “What are you really proud of about the community?”, What are you sorry or not so proud of about the community?”, and “Imagine you’ve come back to the community after 20 years away; What do you see and experience that has changed for the better?”

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at and (734) 669-6317.


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.


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

Hazel-Park-150x130 Vernor-Crossing-150x130 Grandmont-Rosedale-150x130 Pontiac-150x130
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.