Councils, staffs work together for towns
ALPENA — Those who serve on municipal councils say they strive to make difficult decisions that best serve everyone in their community.
Often, however, residents know little about the full scope of a council person’s jobs, how they do it, or the limits of local government power.
Three members of city councils around Northeast Michigan talked to The News about those issues:
BIG-PICTURE, WHAT IS YOUR JOB?
Sheila Phillips, president, Lincoln Village Council: “I run the council meetings and am a voting member, although I try not to, because we have a good council that makes good decisions based on the law. I am also the village supervisor and work on many township issues.”
Amber Hess, councilwoman, Alpena Municipal Council: “My job is to represent the interests of the residents of the City of Alpena. I do this by listening to what residents have to say and then working in conjunction with the rest of council to formulate policy, direct the administrative officers of the city, and address various matters necessary to the functioning of the city currently and into the future.
“As a council, we also look to the city’s goals, major projects, infrastructure improvements, and strategic planning. The council makes the big-picture decisions about the city’s operations and finances and then directs the city manager and other staff members to conduct the day-to-day business of the city in accordance with those decisions. Individually, council members don’t have any power to set policy or make decisions. We work collectively as a council to make decisions and each vote to express our position on matters.”
Scott McLennan, mayor, Rogers City: “Holding the title of mayor in a small town is much different than, say, being mayor of Chicago. For the most part, it’s ceremonial, in the respect that, as mayor, I hold just one vote on a five-person council, no power of veto. The additional duties that I have include calling meetings, assisting in building the agenda, assuring meeting protocol is followed, acting as a spokesperson for the council, giving a speech from time to time, and even conducting a number of marriages each year. My most important role is that of listening to and understanding what citizens want for the city, researching the issues, then leading in a way that will promote positive change for the community.”
WHAT ARE THE TOOLS YOU HAVE AT YOUR DISPOSAL TO DO THAT JOB?
Phillips: “I have a great staff, including the council, treasurer, clerk, maintenance crew, which is important. Another good tool is the state law, including the General Law Village Act of 1895. It outlines what we can and can’t do. Our legal counsel is important to what we do, as are the state agencies that we count on to answer questions and get advice on issues.”
Hess: “I feel that the most valuable tools at my disposal as a member of city council are the dedicated staff members that bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their roles. I reach out regularly to the city manager, the clerk, or the various department heads with questions or to pass along a concern that a resident has shared with me. I have also found the training and information available from the Michigan Municipal League to be valuable, since they specialize in keeping up on municipal law matters and how various statewide matters affect us at the local community level.”
McLennan: “The best tool that I know of would definitely be people with positive attitudes, people who say, ‘Absolutely, this will take an effort, but, together, we can get it done. Now, let’s make it happen!’ Also, we are fortunate to have a highly skilled and hardworking city manager, along with a city staff and a large number of community volunteers who keep Rogers City moving in a very positive direction. Additionally, our recent designation as the 50th Redevelopment Ready Community in the state, along with our efforts to become a Michigan Main Street community, will serve our city well in paving the way for a variety of future investors.”
WHAT’S SOMETHING PEOPLE THINK YOU CAN DO BUT YOU CAN’T?
Phillips: “People think that we can force others to do things on private property, which we can’t, most of the time, because it is a civil dispute. Most of the time, it involves neighbors, and it is up to them to work things out. If they can’t, then it could be up to the courts to settle.”
Hess: “On several occasions, people have commented that we should get a specific business, or a certain type of business, to come into the city of Alpena. As much as I might agree that having that business or type of business in the community could be beneficial, council has little say in what businesses actually choose to operate in the city of Alpena. There are programs in place that offer planning help, mentorship, and information about potential financing and grants for those looking into opening businesses or developing properties in the city. I encourage anyone interested in opening a business or developing property to utilize all resources available to them, but, ultimately, it is up to the potential business owner or developer to move forward with their plans.”
McLennan: “Mayors cannot make decisions on their own when it comes to running the city. Mayors, along with council members, listen to the public, hear from various city committees, work with the city manager, and then, together, the five- person city council decides on the priorities to be addressed. Oh, I might add that we can’t dismiss your traffic ticket, either.”
Contact your cities
∫ Alpena, 989-354-1700, alpena.mi.us
∫ Rogers City, 989-734-2191, rogerscity.com
∫ Onaway, 989-733-8313, onawaymi.com
∫ Hillman, 989-742-4751, hillmanmichigan.org
∫ Harrisville, 989-724-6666, harrisvillemi.org
∫ Lincoln, 989-736-8713, lincolnmi.com
About this series
Sunshine Week is an annual celebration of government transparency laws and the First Amendment and a time to advocate for more openness by those in power, from local government to the federal government.
This year, The News decided to get back to basics and asked various government leaders in Northeast Michigan to open up about their jobs and what they can and can’t do on behalf of the people they serve.
Check out The News every day this week for the latest Sunshine Week installment.