Leading role: New president of the Michigan Municipal League is someone to 'count on'

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

As a teenager living in rural Lapeer County, Catherine Bostick-Tullius – the new president of the Michigan Municipal League – wasn’t even sure she would go to college, let alone have a life that included a busy family law practice and a number of roles in government organizations.

“Coming from a low income family that struggled when my dad was laid off, I told myself, ‘I am going to be really determined not to let that happen to my family.’  That’s how you think as a kid. It doesn’t always mean you can control your living situation,” Bostick-Tullius says.  “As I got older, I found myself wanting to be a person who others could count on, to be someone who was there rooting for people who were less fortunate.”

Through her education, Bostick-Tullius also discovered she possessed a penchant for argument that worked in her favor when she decided to pursue a law career.

“I attended a very small high school in North Branch, a farming community with a population of just over 1,000. I had no idea if I was even going to go to college. Yet I liked to argue so much, even with my teachers, that I received the ‘Class Complainer’ award,” she recalls.

Even so, Bostick-Tullius believed she would earn an accounting degree, a direction that was derailed when she enrolled in a mock trial class.

“At Northern Michigan, where I earned my undergraduate degree, I took a mock trial course as an elective. I’m not even sure why I took it,” she says. “It was that class that made me realize I had the ability to get up in front of other people and argue my case. It was a huge revelation that made me think, ‘This is what I love.’ That was my initial path into a legal career, but it was a little more than that.”

The “little more than that” turned out to be additional electives in political science. Those courses led Bostick-Tullius to an internship with a state legislator, an experience that helped steer her toward a lifelong interest in the workings of government.

“A college campaign practicum that preceded an internship for then State Senator Mitch Irwin, taught me how to do a campaign,” she says.

“When I started to learn about the issues and see how much he (Irwin) cared about helping people, I became aware of how much I cared about those issues too. I wanted to give back in the same way.”

After her 1994 graduation from Cooley Law School and a summer stint working just outside of Boston, Bostick-Tullius headed back to Lapeer County where she was hired by a family law attorney.

“I have absolutely no regrets about coming back to Lapeer. I like the small community and having the familiarity of knowing someone when you walk down the street,” Bostick-Tullius says, adding, “I really appreciate that because it’s the kind of community I grew up in. I missed that during my time in the Boston area.”

Bostick-Tullius, a former member of the Lapeer County Commission, who currently serves as a Lapeer City Commissioner and also is a member of the city’s planning commission, said her term as the president of the MML is a continuation of her advocacy for Michigan’s municipalities.

“My involvement with the MML began in 2008 when I was appointed to the Lapeer City Commission and our city manager let me know we had this terrific resource that provides training and education on issues pertinent to cities and villages,” she says. “At his suggestion, I started going to MML conferences where I saw how it was helping our cities. I thought, ‘This is a great thing.’”

At a time when state governments across the country have cut back funding for cities and towns, Bostick-Tullius says organizations like the MML can help municipalities of all sizes become more resourceful.

“I feel like during the last 10 or 15 years, the state has found more and more ways to take away local control from municipalities, while at the same time giving less and less revenue for us to be able to operate. Many of Michigan’s cities are struggling. Lapeer has done pretty well, but even so we need to find more creative ways to bring in money.”

Like many communities across Michigan, Lapeer’s city commissioners are concerned about how it will find the financing to maintain a solid infrastructure, Bostick-Tullius says.

“We are always looking for new avenues to finance improvements for streets and roads. I’m sure everyone talks about that in their communities. We even went so far to put a millage proposal on the ballot during the last election. I was so disappointed. We lost by 24 votes.”

Despite the disappointment, Bostick-Tullius is enthusiastic about Lapeer’s recent designation by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) as a “Michigan Main Street Community.”

“We were really excited when that happened,” she says of the MEDC recognition. “A lot of downtowns have been hit hard by the suburbs so this is one way to help bring back our downtown and to help mentor other communities.”

Four months into her term as president of the MML, Bostick-Tullius says her role as a statewide spokesperson for the League is one that is motivating and humbling.

“As I represent the MML to the entire state, I want to remind everyone of the value of Michigan’s municipalities, and how they work to promote growth statewide,” says Bostick-Tullius. “Even though I am a trial attorney who speaks in front of judges every week in court, representing the MML is humbling. I can’t believe I am in the position that I am in – to be able to speak to so many people about the important work the League does. It probably won’t sink in until my term is done.”

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