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Former League Presidents Woodrow Stanley, Charles Smiley and Vicki Barnett Make History by Serving in Michigan Legislature
By Andy Schor and Samantha Harkins
State Reps. Woodrow Stanley, Charles Smiley, and Vicki Barnett stood outside of the state Capitol on a brisk January morning, smiling despite the frigid temperature and gusting wind.
They were smiling not only because this day (January 12, 2011) marked the first day for Michigan’s new Legislature, but because that afternoon when they placed their hands on a Bible to take the oath of office, they would be making a bit of history.
It marked the first time in modern memory that three former Michigan Municipal League Presidents were serving at the same time in the Michigan Legislature. Stanley, D-Flint, was League president in 1990-91; Smiley, D-Burton, was the president in 2000-01; and Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, served as president in 2006-07. The three past presidents are among 30 former League members serving in the 148-person 96th Michigan Legislature.
Only time will tell what this strong representation means for Michigan’s cities, villages, and urban townships. The significance isn’t lost on the three former mayors of Flint (Stanley), Burton (Smiley) and Farmington Hills (Barnett).
“It’s not just a matter of symbolism, which is very significant—I don’t remember there ever being three former presidents of the League serving in the Legislature at the same time,” Stanley explained. “So, symbolically it sends a pretty powerful message. But from a more substantive viewpoint it says that over the course of time, the League has been a great proving ground for nurturing leadership and that Vicki, Charlie, and I, understand the issues that are important to local governments. Those local municipal issues are close to our hearts, and when we go to the floor every day we think about them.”
“I’m certainly cautiously optimistic,” Stanley continued, “that there are going to be opportunities even in the tremendous challenges that we’ll face as a state. I’m hopeful the leadership in the House and the Senate, as well as the governor, will join ranks with those of us who have served in local government in a kind of solidarity to find formulas that are a matter of common ground, as opposed to pitting cities against suburbs and the like. I’m cautiously hopeful.”
Term limits have produced interesting results in Lansing. They have resulted in new people serving in the Legislature, bringing enthusiasm and fresh outlooks and ideas. But on the flip side, there are more legislators with little to no experience. The slew of new members since the 1992 term limits were enacted have been blamed (whether rightly or wrongly) for the budget debacles and other problems in the Legislature. Whether or not you believe term limits are to blame for all the ills of state government, one thing is for sure—League members have stepped up and are taking their local government experience to the Capitol. The list includes at least 11 former mayors and village presidents, and well over a dozen city and village councilmembers.
“Having such strong municipal representation gives us a very persuasive and strong voice to the concept of local communities getting their full share of revenue sharing dollars,” Barnett said. “We have to stand up. We have a great opportunity as local elected officials, as former presidents of the League, to persuade our colleagues how crucial those votes will be to maintain full revenue sharing for our local communities. But there are a lot of other things that cities need. We need to make sure we can maintain sewer and water systems. And we need to make sure that there’s money to keep our roads in good repair.”
The knowledge and expertise of local leaders who have transitioned into state government is critical in advancing local government priorities in the Legislature and with the Administration. Rep. Deb Shaughnessy (R-Charlotte) was on the Charlotte city council for four years and then served as mayor for four years. She was an active member of the League’s legislative policy committees. Rep. Shaughnessy sees her time as mayor as a critical part of her new job: “My experience as mayor of Charlotte has prepared me for the issues and challenges I will face in the Michigan Legislature. Much of the legislation passed in Lansing has an impact on local government, and it is critical my colleagues understand that. During these difficult economic times when our resources are dwindling, it is not easy to serve in local government. I had to make some very difficult decisions and the skills I learned while serving as mayor will assist me in being an effective legislative leader.”
Smiley, mayor of Burton for nearly two decades, said he is now active in working on issues for his community in the House. “As Mayor, I have worked first-hand on the important issues of my community. I have been on the front lines, working on tight budgets and providing services in times of decreasing property values and cuts from the state. I am excited to take this experience to Lansing and make a difference immediately!”
“Cities and villages are the heart of our state,” Smiley said. “I really believe strongly that local municipalities have to excel. They have to be able to have the tools they need to deliver the services that our residents expect and deserve. I’ll do everything I can for our local governments.”
List of Local Government Leaders Serving in Michigan Legislature
Andy Schor is assistant director of state affairs for the League. You may reach him at 517-908-0300 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Samantha Harkins is a legislative associate for the League. You may reach her at 517-908-0306 or email@example.com.