City Councilman Jon Droschas Report From The Michigan Municipal League Annual Conference
October 8, 2013
by Jon Droscha
September 18-20 City Administrator Marty Colburn, Mayor Leon Clark, and I travelled to Detroit to attend the annual conference of the MML. MML stands for Michigan Municipal League; it is a consortium of Michigan’s cities, townships, and villages with the common goal of influencing state policy. Another purpose of the League is the sharing of information between its entities. Like the state’s public schools, Michigan’s municipalities have been adversely affected by decisions at the state level over the last several years, and negatively affected by the decade long recession. So, it is helpful to the League’s members to share their ideas about planning, budgeting, and moving forward in these tough times.
The buzz words for the conference were “place making”. Many of the sessions and the “Community Excellence Award” were directly related to place making. The winner of the award was Ironwood for renovating an old train depot and repurposing it for a center for community gathering. It will serve as a trailhead for a non-motorized trail, volleyball courts were added, and playground equipment is being installed. What is place making? It is the art of creating spaces for people to meet, and enjoy each others company. Its goal is community building. Place making can be done by public or private entities. A good example of place making in Mason is the Sundried Music Festival. The festival creates a space for people to gather, enjoy music, food, and each other.
I attended break out sessions on the following topics: Interactive Modeling, Strategic Economic Growth, Detroit’s Music History, Defined Contribution Health Plans, and Bringing the Information Super Highway to Your Community. Interactive Modeling uses creative strategic planning to find sources of revenue and savings to balance a municipality’s budget. It uses a holistic approach and looks forward rather than simply being reactionary. I believe that Mason uses a model very similar to what was shown at this session (which was really a long advertisement for the presenting firm), which is one reason we have been able to stay ahead of the curve financially. The Strategic Economic Growth session talked about the failed suburban planning model that creates a whole lot of single use buildings. This is what has been the primary model for growth over the last forty years, and it is bankrupting many of our municipalities. Single use properties cost more in services and create less revenue that multi-use buildings. Multi-use buildings house more jobs than single use buildings. Mason is beginning to use a multi-use model in its downtown, and has seen success with it. The way forward is to expand this model outward to the North Cedar Street, and the Kipp Road corridors. The tour of Detroit’s Music history was interesting and somewhat informative. We toured the Carr Center for African-American art, a work of repurposing in progress. It is taking a tremendous old abandoned building and remodeling it as a museum for African-American art. We drove past the Motown Museum, and had lunch at the Eastern Market. Blue Cross/ Shield sponsored the presentation on defined contribution health plans. Plans for use under the Affordable Care Act were shown. Essentially, employers define the amount the will contribute to health plans and employees are then free to choose from a selection of plans that fit their budget.
The final break out session I attended was about connecting to the fiber optic network and providing fiber optic service to your municipality. I am exceedingly excited about this prospect. The city could bond for the installation and set up a utility that would provide internet and television service to it’s residents that would be 200 times faster and more reliable than is available thru current options. What an attractive feature for businesses looking to move to Mason, one gigabit fiber optic service. Fiber is synchronous as opposed to the asynchronous copper wire that is currently in use by AT&T and WOW. That means one gigabit throughput in both directions, with no realized limit on bandwidth. It is this sort of technology that would attract high tech industry and research to Mason. We are ideally located on a main fiber optic trunk line between Lansing and Jackson, and there is fiber already running along M-36. It is time to take control of this utility and give our citizens the service they deserve.
General sessions primarily focussed on what is happening in Detroit, both publicly with the bankruptcy and privately with all the terrific development downtown. Detroit IS in trouble financially as a city, but there are many large businesses that are taking the risk of moving or consolidating there businesses to downtown Detroit. Their employees really like the feel and available services in downtown. The city has a long row to hoe, but it is nice to see so much optimism about Detroit’s future.
All in all the MML conference was enjoyable and informative. I would like to thank the city council for electing to send me to the conference. I hope to implement many of the things I learned at the conference to better serve our community.