Michigan's township officials convene in Grand Rapids



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

By any standards, the opening session of the recent Michigan Townships Association (MTA) annual conference and expo last week was impressive.

The well-organized days that followed supported that impression. The MTA staff deftly juggled the needs of more than 1100 participants, well over a hundred exhibitors, and dozens of presenters.

DeVos  Place’s facilities were up to the challenge. At the opening on Jan. 26, large double screens surrounding the stage featured either whoever was speaking or performing, or well-timed video presentations.

Mike Ridley, a singer-songwriter who is also the Superintendent of Tuscarora Township, opened the meeting with place-specific, township-based song.

Current President Linda Towsley gave her farewell address and introduced an impressive ceremony. In addition to Towsley’s husband and grandchildren carrying the U.S. and Michigan flags, 20-30 superintendents paraded across the stage with their township flags.

The final segment of the opening featured motivational speaker Bruce Wilkinson. The high-energy presentation of this former police officer from New Orleans focused on creating excellence in township government.

Prior to that, MTA Executive Director Larry Merrill discussed the changes taking place in the Michigan legislature and governor’s office. He was very upbeat about what is happening and said, “There’s a new optimism, a new sense that we’ll get beyond the divisiveness that’s existed for too many years.”

Merrill said that in discussions with the governor’s office, he had been given to understand that there may be a portion of revenue sharing funds that will be given to municipalities based on competitive applications. These would focus on incentivizing such cost-saving measures as collaborating on services with other municipalities.

Merrill said that townships are already engaging in widespread collaboration, and MTA would object to the incentive process if it punished townships for being early adopters. He noted that there are statutory revenue sharing provisions, and said that he would bring to the governor’s attention that any incentivized funding must be over and above that.

However, Merrill said he will keep an open mind until he hears the details in direct discussion with the governor, expected to take place this week. In a speech to the Michigan Press Association last Friday, Gov. Snyder reiterated that he is considering an incentive basis related to revenue sharing, but the details are not yet even under consideration.

Merrill started out in the Michigan Townships Association as its legislative liaison, and has a long history of advocating for the needs of townships and township officials.

The current head of the MTA Legislative Liaison team, Dave Bertram, was very much in evidence at the conference. There were several breakouts which concerned policy and several others which touched on policy. Bertram participated in as many as he could get to.

He also brought forward a proposed policy platform for 2011. This platform was considered at the Friday Annual Meeting.

The platform has two parts: policy “asks” that have been included in past platforms, and new ones.

Included in the first category were such issues as: moving all property tax billing to a single summer invoice; supporting increased federal and state funding to protect and restore the Great Lakes; support for recycling and expansion of the bottle deposit law; and reforming the recall process.

Items on the New Policy list included: requiring mobile home parks to pay taxes that reflect the cost of services local governments provide; the statutory versus discretionary revenue sharing issue discussed above; and making public transit a high priority in urban areas.

To Bertram’s surprise, the only part of the platform which failed was the Medical Marihuana provision. A conference session on the Act drew an overflow crowd, and the platform called merely for clarification of the law, as well as a requirement for photos on state-issued cards. Bertram said he expects that the results of several pending court cases will mean that  Medical Marihuana may not appear on next year’s platform