It’s likely that in its 112 years, the Michigan Municipal League, which advocates for cities and villages throughout the state, has never had so much U-M leadership involvement, officials say.
Current league President Karen Majewski, Vice President David Lossing and Trustee Susan Rowe all work for U-M.
“I think it’s probably the first time it’s happened,” says Dan Gilmartin, MML executive director and CEO. He says the university connection is a plus for the league — but not strictly because of the U-M tie. Gilmartin says it’s more because trustees with major research university background know the players and initiatives that can benefit local economies.
The MML seeks to create and offers member community representatives services and events to help educate and inspire them as they perform public service. “I think so much of our role is to create vibrant communities in the state,” Gilmartin says. “So many of our efforts are around small business and attracting talent, having a prepared workforce and creating the kinds of amenities that make places competitive,” he says, adding that university leaders have the background to support that MML role.
Majewski, project manager with the Institute for Research, Labor and the Economy, says she became aware of the MML through her participation in local politics. Majewski is mayor of the City of Hamtramck.
“Certainly the three of us are quite proud that together we represent each U-M campus within this highly visible and effective organization. I don’t know that it gives U-M any special clout in the Michigan Municipal League, but I think it does show the level of engagement in community and civic life that U-M promotes and encourages,” she says. Majewski says working with the nonprofit MML also helps U-M representatives see where opportunities exist to encourage connections between university and community programs.
David Lossing, UM-Flint government relations director and mayor of the City of Linden, says each of the three U-M representatives brings to his or her MML service similar perspectives on how to help municipal government create regional partnerships. “In a sense, it’s about connecting the research of our faculty to help solve issues, the engagement of our students to apply what they have learned in communities and linking the talent of the institutions to bring new ideas to the marketplace via technology transfer,” he says.
Through the MML, U-M representatives meet with municipal officials throughout Michigan, and these conversations benefit the university, says Rowe, executive secretary to the UM-Dearborn vice chancellor of government relations. She also is a City of Wayne council member. “The Michigan Municipal League is a great opportunity to network and bounce off ideas, you can see how another community is handling a situation. I can hear what is being discussed in various areas of the state in terms of what higher education does, and what’s expected of higher education,” she says.
Gilmartin says U-M campuses also have benefitted from the connection with the MML. He says UM-Dearborn has worked with the league to present professional development classes to educate elected officials. “They cover everything from running good meetings to zoning issues and long-term strategic issues,” he says. Gilmartin also has spoken at UM-Flint at Lossing’s request on issues such as place making, economic development and building great cities for the 21st century.
Moving forward, Gilmartin says the MML plans to step up efforts to head off a talent drain in Michigan. “Forty-five percent of graduates from 15 public universities leave the state after graduation. It’s not necessarily a job issue, it’s a lifestyle issue; we’re trying to reverse that,” Gilmartin says. “All three of these (U-M) individuals can help us play a role in bridging that gap.”
Lossing says today’s college graduates are looking for a sense of place first before looking for a job or career. He says the state’s 15 public universities in partnership with their host cities “can help create that sense of place for our graduates because of the richness of our institutions and the traditions we have created.”
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