Smith's municipal expertise will now benefit City of Wyoming

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

When asked what all his other clients will do when he transitions from his municipal practice at Dickinson Wright to being the ful-time counsel for the City of Wyoming, Scott Smith laughs.

“Any success I have is due to the whole team at Dickinson, which is a good one,” he says, mentioning such names as Dick Wendt, Ron Bultje, Roger Swets, Emily Rysberg, and Nick Cursio. “It’s the firm that really provided the service; it’s always a team effort.”

That is perhaps overly modest, considering that many of his municipal clients followed Smith as he moved from firm to firm.

His career started out at Clary, Nantz, Wood, Hoffius and Cooper after attending first Wheaton College in Illinois for his B.A. in English and then the University of Michigan Law School. “When I graduated from law school, I thought I was going to be a trial attorney, but over time at Clary that changed,” he said.

When that firm disbanded in 1996, Smith joined colleagues in moving to Law Weathers and Richardson, where he practiced until 2006. From there, he joined the Grand Rapids office of Clark Hill prior to his nearly-five-year tenure at Dickinson Wright. He will still practice at Dickinson for another month before assuming his duties at the City of Wyoming.

Smith has been the city attorney for Grand Haven, for example, since 1993, seeing a broad array of changes in the community and in the elected and appointed officials.

“The fun part of my job is working with the people, and the community leaders,” he says, pausing reflectively. “And  they’re just all wonderful people, people who are looking to do what will make their community better. They may not always agree, and I’ve been privileged to interact and problem-solve to help them figure out how to get things accomplished.”

When asked why he wanted to make the unusual move from a prestigious law firm to working for a single community, Smith points out that the Wyoming City Council wondered the same thing. “I told them this: a couple of weeks ago I worked on 24 different matters for communities like Macomb County, Sale, St. Johns, Wyoming, Battle Creek, Grand Rapids... It involved a whole variety of projects from river revitalization to sewer issues, medical marijuana facilities, airports, and all kinds of things. I work pretty hard and run pretty fast – one year, I put 35,000 miles on my car and attended 40 meetings that required overnight says.

“It’s time to narrow my focus a bit,” he says.

The community of Wyoming is a large and complex one, expanding and trying to do so innovatively, explains City Manager Curtis Holt. “We lost the GM plant, which was a big part of the community, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to change what we’re known for, and how to use these buildings well,”  says Holt, who has been with Wyoming for 22 years. For example, the old Rogers Department Store on 28th Street, which presented many design problems, is now an active office space.

“We don’t have much available space, so we have to be creative, especially with housing units. We’re doing a lot of what I would call infill,” he says with a smile.

Smith, who has known Holt for decades, comments, “Wyoming has good solid leadership. Megan Sall, the assistant city manager, is top-notch, and it’s a good stable council too.”

Aware that he will still be called on to know the law in a broad range of topics, Smith says he also may have to call on his trial lawyer training. “I’ll probably run into some civil lawsuits, and I’ll be doing prosecution of ordinance violations. I haven’t done some of that in a while, so I’ll need to dust some skills off,” he says.

In addition to the in-depth familiarity with municipal law gained over his nearly 40 years in practice, Smith has lent his hand to legislation that assists local units of government.

He drafted the Municipal Partnership Act of 2011 (PA 258), stemming from work that the cities of Grand Rapids and Wyoming were doing on bio-solids. “Kent County’s pretty innovative in its joint efforts, and does a lot of collaborative work. There were a number of statutes passed at that time that enabled local governments to work together, but ours had a couple of twists that the others didn’t.

“We found a sponsor and worked with other legislators to get it done. At first there were some unions that were not quite happy with it, so we worked with them to include language to make it a win-win,” Smith says.

“You have to work to find solutions; that’s how it is with any legislation. I’ve worked on a lot of legislation over the years,” he adds, including the personal property tax replacement with Lt. Gov. Calley.

All of that was in addition to receiving a variety of accolades based on his practice. He was named a “Thought Leader in the Law” in 2010 by West Michigan Business Review, was the Lawyer of the Year in Municipal Law and Municipal Litigation in 2017 (and a Best Lawyer designee from 2012-2018); and was recognized in municipal law by Michigan Super Lawyers 2012-2015.

Smith lives in nearby Grandville with his wife, a pharmacist not currently practicing. They have two sons, and due to the miracle of triplets and a daughter-in-law “who’s due any time now,” are very close to having six grandchildren under the age of two.

And he very much looks forward to the challenges that await him in Wyoming. “It’s a community that’s growing more demographically diverse, and along with that there’sredevelopment pressure,” he says. “So there’s a lot of opportunity in Wyoming and we’re looking at exciting concepts for its growth and development.

“It’ll be nice to be able to focus on this one community.”