Michigan Municipal League honors attorneys, legislators, and others



from Michigan Municipal League sources with notes by Cynthia Price, Legal News

A lively Capital Conference Awards Gala March 20 saw the Michigan Municipal League (MML) give out several awards, two of which went to deserving attorneys.

MML is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities.

Brandon Fournier, a labor attorney with Howard Shifman Law Firm, merited the Outstanding Service Award for his long-time assistance to MML, including most recently in the League’s effort on Other Post-Employment Benefits reform.

“During the pension reform and OPEB negotiations spanning the last year and a half, Brandon has served a critical role for League staff, offering technical expertise and understanding of the legal and practical implications of the policy and legislative reform proposals,” said Chris Hackbarth, director of state and federal affairs for the League, who presented the award to Fournier. The award honors individuals who have gone above and beyond in helping League staff advocate on behalf of all local communities at the state and/or federal level.

Fournier represents municipalities in southeast Michigan and across the state with labor and contract negotiations. He also is a former city administrator for the City of Southgate and continues to serve as the city’s attorney. He has served for many years on the League’s internal Municipal Finance Committee and has always made himself available to League staff, answering questions and providing feedback.

“Brandon has attended meetings around the state with League staff on this issue, participated in conference calls, reviewed legislation and drafted language, and been available at all hours of the day, night and weekends, offering his counsel and insight,” Hackbarth said. “Our efforts to negotiate with the Legislature and Administration on this OPEB issue were significantly enhanced by Brandon’s efforts.”

Fournier received his BBA from Western Michigan University and his J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. He has previously been named one of Crain’s Detroit “20 in their 20s.”

The second attorney honored was one of their own, the League’s General Counsel William C. Mathewson. He was given the League’s highest individual honor, the Honorary Life Membership Award.

Mathewson began with the League as an intern in 1977 and spent his entire 40-plus year career with the non-profit organization. He plans to retire at the end of June.

“Bill is the consummate professional,” said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin, who presented the award to Mathewson. “His work at the League, for its length of service and its quality, is unmatched. Bill really personifies what makes the League great.”
After joining the League as an intern, Mathewson began his full-time career in 1978. Prior to being named general counsel in 1997, Mathewson held several distinctly different positions with the Municipal League in its Ann Arbor and Lansing offices, including work on legislative advocacy in Lansing. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a major in economics. He has a master’s degree in urban planning from University of Michigan's College of Architecture and Urban Planning and earned his juris doctorate at the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law in Lansing while working for MML.

In addition, Mathewson serves as secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys (MAMA).

Mathewson was also recognized for his work in the municipal attorney field in general, including receiving the National League of Cities’ John G. Stutz Service Award in 2002 and being inducted into the Academy of Municipal Attorneys (AMA) in 2016. He has provided service to Michigan municipal attorneys on an individual basis and in his role as secretary to MAMA.

“Bill demanded of himself a high ethical and intellectual integrity and expected the same of others,” said John Schrier of Muskegon, current MAMA president. “Bill has provided thoughtful guidance and insight to many municipal attorneys, which will be missed.”
In addition, as fund administrator of the Legal Defense Fund, Mathewson worked with the Fund’s Board of Directors to select an attorney to prepare and submit an amicus curiae brief in those cases affecting municipal interests in the state and federal judicial systems. Amicus briefs are significant in presenting and outlining issues, and, in these cases, municipal issues to a court. In that process, it has been Mathewson’s role to follow through with amicus counsel once selection of cases has been made by the Legal Defense Fund Board. His attention to that process has always been thorough and timely. There is no question that the Legal Defense Fund, through Mathewson’s efforts, has had a significant and positive impact on issues affecting municipalities in the state of Michigan, Schrier said.
Mathewson, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Cheryl Cunningham, said he was truly surprised by the honor.  “It was never my intention to always work at the same organization, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work for the League in so many different capacities over the years. It’s been my honor to serve this organization for so many years,” Mathewson said. “The people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve built have meant everything to me.”

The League gave its Legislators of the Year Award to Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, and Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth.

A local man was one of three individuals given the Ambassador Award. City Commissioner Jim Holtrop of Hudsonville was honored as a committed supporter of the League.

MML also launched its 16/50 Project that same day. The project, taglined “Driving the Force of Female Municipal Managers,” was created to highlight and bridge the gap between the percentage of women residing in Michigan, 50.8%, and the percentage of female municipal managers, a far lower 16%. With a focus on the unique skills and challenges that women bring to and face in the profession, the 16/50 Project will work to remove barriers  to female leadership.