Kentwood city commissioner/attorney runs for mayor based on love of city

Sharon Brinks, mayoral candidate


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Says Sharon Brinks, candidate for mayor of Kentwood, about running for the full-time paid position, “I had to make the personal decision that I would be closing down my full-time law practice, even though I love what I do. I’ve had the opportunity to be a foster parent, to help people in Nicaragua, to serve for 16 years on the city commission, and at the end of the day those are the things that matter to me more than making a lot of money.”

A love of Kentwood and a desire to emphasize the positive are what specifically drives the attorney, whose law office and home are in the city.

“We need to take pride in Kentwood – people take potshots at Kentwood like they do at lawyers,” she says humorously, then turns serious. “We have such an incredible city, a hidden jewel in West Michigan. I’m very passionate about that.”

Though Brinks was originally encouraged to run for the city commission, in 1997, by former Mayor Bill Hardiman, she has nothing but good to say about former Mayor Richard Root, who died less than a year ago. Brinks was Mayor Pro Tem under Mayor Root.

When he resigned in May 2012 to devote all his time to fighting cancer, he told news sources that one of his proudest moments was spearheading passage of a library millage in 2010, even though he had been warned not to pursue it.

Brinks wrote the “white paper” exploring, and promoting, the new library, which is now called the Richard L. Root Kentwood Branch Library.

She also has high praise for current Mayor Richard Clanton, appointed to fill out Root’s term, who is not running for re-election. “We owe him a tremendous thank you,” Brinks said, noting that his willingness to serve avoided a costly special election.

As it stands, Brinks will face competition from four official candidates and one write-in. The write-in is the only other city commissioner running, Richard Coughlin, while the others are William Gray, Thomas Webb, Stephen Kepley, and Sgt. Burton Lee Isler (retired).

The number of candidates in the field means that there will be a primary race in August, and unless someone gets 51% of the vote at that time (in which case that candidate is declared the winner), the top two vote-getters will go on to the November election.

“We’re in a sprint to the Aug. 6 election, and after that there will be a second spring; there are two legs to this race, and I hope to run in both,” Brinks says.

Brinks has been in solo practice since 1993. Her firm currently specializes in civil litigation, estate planning and employment law, with litigation composing 80% of her work. Over the years, she has done work in personal injury on both the plaintiff and defense side.

Growing up near Kentwood on 56th Street (near Clyde Park), Brinks went to South Christian and Kelloggsville Christian schools, followed by Calvin College, from which she received a B.A. in Philosophy. She then went on to Wayne State University Law School, graduating cum laude in 1980. She was a judicial law clerk before practicing at a mid-sized law firm, which she left to start Brinks and Associates.

She has published in her areas of expertise, she lectures and teaches extensively, and she is admitted to the bars of U.S. Courts all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In addition to her city commissioner position, Brinks has been a foster parent to two teenage girls, receiving the President’s Award in 1997 from the Michigan Foster and Adoptive Parents Organization, and was a founding board member of the National Legal Network for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. Brinks has served on the planning board of The Rapid, on the Land Bank Authority, and for a number of other boards as a representative of Kentwood. She is also an Honorary Auxiliary member of the local Am Vets Post 23.

One of her other passions has been the Nicaraguan Law and Justice project, which brought attorneys to Nicaragua to work toward establishing the rule of law in a country with a variety of challenges including extremely limited court access by the poor. As reported in a 2007 Grand Rapids Legal News, Brinks traveled to Nicaragua several times to participate with attorneys there seeking the same goal, and served locally as a
development volunteer for the project.

Though she is committed to good government, she observes, “Government can’t do everything.“ What she promotes, as reflected in her campaign literature, is small and smart government. This reflects decreasing revenues for municipalities, the result of a number of trends hitting all at once. “We have to learn to do more with less,” she says, drawing a parallel with her own campaign.

She approvingly quotes former U.S. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey: “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.”  

The one area Brinks consistently has supported, and campaigned on, is public safety. Kentwood, a city of just under 50,000 people, has a staff somewhere in the neighborhood of 200, but Brinks points out, “Most of those are police and fire fighters, and that is how it should be.”

She is proud that Kentwood takes a long view of its budgeting process, looking forward five years rather than just the current one.”For example,” she says, “we’re buying a new fire truck right now. But we don’t borrow money to buy our fire trucks, we save in advance, and then we pay cash.”

Enhancements Brinks will advocate include filling in business vacancies in key areas and restoring property values through “promotion of vibrant public and charter schools, keeping taxes low and promoting upward mobility through our diverse workforce,” according to her campaign brochure.

Government which is challenged in terms of revenue cannot afford to ignore the ideas of its citizens and property owners. “Small but smart government means tapping into the resources and ideas of our staff and our citizens. I’m suggesting that we should have a ‘good government’ hotline to the mayor, where we could take ideas from citizens.”

How does Brinks feel that her experience as an attorney can help her be a better mayor? “Much of what you do as a city commissioner, and as mayor, requires analysis and careful attention to details. That is something an attorney is good at. As an attorney I bring a special skill set, but because I’m in solo practice and own the building that houses my firm, I bring the small business owner’s perspective as well.”

Saying that on the city commission she frequently raised issues no one else saw, Brinks tells the story of a contract the city received from a government agency regarding the road work on 28th Street. “The proposed contract said we were partners in the planning for the road work, and I  refused to sign that, because we weren’t. If we had been there would be additional sidewalks along 28th Street, because that’s what the residents want. The result was that we eventually were invited to the table, and we’re now going to have our sidewalks.”

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