Nettleton joins honored ranks of distinguished municipal attorneys


 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
Mark Nettleton of Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones has taken his place in an impressive roster of award winners from the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys (MAMA), going back as far as 1985 and including the very best in West Michigan over the years.
Nettleton won the 2013 Distinguished Municipal Attorney Award, which honors municipal attorneys “who have reached the highest level of professional accomplishment, in the representation of cities or villages and contribution to other municipal attorneys through participation in and service to professional organizations”?such as MAMA.

The organization also gives the William L. Steude Ethics and Civility in Local Government Award annually, as well as occasional special awards of excellence.

Former Grand Rapids City Attorney Phil Balkema has won both the Distinguished Attorney and Steude Awards, and Dick Wendt, now at Dickinson Wright, was honored with an Award of Excellence in Municipal Law and Governance in 2009. MAMA named Jeffrey V.H. Sluggett of Bloom Sluggett Morgan its Distinguished Municipal Attorney in 2010. 

In addition, Thomas O’Toole of Muskegon, now deceased, and Don Schmidt of Kalamazoo won one or more awards.

Nettleton, who chairs Mika Meyers Beckett and Jones’s Municipal Practice Group, seems to have started on a path to joining that esteemed group since his early years in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “I had known since I was little I wanted to work in or around state and local government. My parents were teachers, and  I guess because of listening to them, I was always interested in government,” Nettleton says. He adds with characteristic humor, “Quite honestly when I was a little kid and realized that lawyers wrote the rules, I said ‘That’s what I want to be when I grow up.’”

His bachelor’s degree with a dual major in economics and political science is from New York’s Fordham University, located in the “fashionable north Bronx,” an area that Fordham helped revitalize. “When I walked onto Fordham’s campus, I knew it was the school for me,” he says. He served as a staffer with a local assemblyman and then with a state senator during college.

From there, he applied to several law schools, but was most interested in University of Detroit Mercy because it had a strong externship program. Nettleton worked in the City of Detroit Law Department; he says how much he learned from mentors there is difficult to estimate.

The Village of Middleville, for which Nettleton serves as the Village Attorney, nominated him for the prestigious award. He has worked closely with the village in all areas, and also serves as special or general counsel for other villages, cities, townships, counties and public authorities across the state, specializing in financing work. He mentions Birch Run in Saginaw County, the village of Homer in Calhoun County,
Jamestown Township in Ottawa County, and the Village of Vermontville in Eaton County, among many.

Nettleton has assisted the Village of Middleville in establishing a trail project, developing its Tax Increment Financing Authority and Downtown Development Authority, and particularly in future planning to address the tight budgets and diminishing revenues now experienced by so many municipalities.

The Middleville Village Manager Rebecca Fleury and Phil VanNoord, a village council trustee, joined Nettleton when he was honored on Sept. 20 in Detroit.

MAMA President Lori Grigg Bluhm said at that event, “As a distinguished attorney who has served municipal interest, Mr. Nettleton has established a level of excellence by which future Distinguished Municipal Attorney nominees will be judged.”

Nettleton comments, ““I’m humbled and appreciative to get this award, of course, but I’d certainly do it without getting any awards at all. I really do enjoy the day to day practice with my clients and rolling up my sleeves to help them figure out, how can we make this happen?”

The Michigan Municipal League (MML) is MAMA’s primary partner, which broadens the organization’s ability to help attorney members achieve the best outcomes for local governments. “Both MAMA and MML help me keep on top of the rapidly changing federal and state legislation,” Nettleton comments.

And that’s just the beginning of the benefits to being a MAMA member, Nettleton notes. “There’s just a wealth of information and experience to rely on. We do a whole lot of municipal work at Mika Meyers, but when we haven’t experienced something within these four walls, there’s a ton of resources available. I’ve also gotten work as a result of networking, and formed many friendships.”

Nettleton is a member of the State Bar of Michigan Public Corporation Law Section Council, which Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish chairs, as well as of the National Association of Bond Lawyers and the Grand Rapids Bar Association.
He lives in Gaines Township and has two sons, 11 and 13, who at times share in some of his municipal adventures, which seems to make Nettleton very happy.

“It’s really satisfying to me, knowing that I’m partnering with clients to make their communities better places,” he says.