Local leaders offer advice, experience

October 24, 2018

An event at the Ford School, “Women Leading Local Government,” spotlighted women around the state of Michigan who are leading communities and developing policies. The interactive seminar allowed graduate and professional students a chance to interact with these decision makers and hear about their experiences in the top administrative role in their respective communities. 

The Michigan Municipal League (MML) presented the event as part of its 16/50 Project, which seeks to address the leadership gap among Michigan’s local chief administrative officers. Currently, only 16 percent of those positions are held by women. 

Four current managers, who also all sit on the 16/50 working group, engaged in a Q&A discussion and led an interactive situation analysis to share more about their work co-hosted by the Ford School’s Program in Practical Policy Engagement (P3E) and the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP). The discussion was moderated by Summer Minnick, deputy executive director & COO of MML.

During opening remarks Deborah Stuart, city administrator of Mason, noted that while considering her career path she did not realize “how exciting these roles can be.” The other panelists shared similar experiences of not having plotted a specific course that led them to their current positions, but being very grateful for where they ended up. 

“Passion” to improve the community Torrie McAfee grew up in was the driving force she attributed to pursuing her position as the township superintendent for Buena Vista Charter Township, where she grew up. 

After each answering a few questions about their career paths and job responsibilities, the four panelists each led a small group of students in considering how they would handle a real-life scenario as a community’s administrator. This interactive component exemplifies the type of real-world engagement that P3E seeks to offer students. 

The group reconvened for attendees to ask questions of the administrators, which provided valuable advice regardless of a student’s career path. 

While talking about having greater diversity in the policy world, Sheryl Mitchell, the city administrator of Lathrup Village, noted you “can’t just be satisfied you’re there, you need to also be looking out for ways to include others.”

Another topic explored was how to handle making a mistake on the job. 

“We fail forward,” said April Lynch, city manager of Ferndale, about her team’s approach to handling mistakes and learning from them.