Conan Smith, lecturer at the Ford School, has been named the next CEO of Michigan Environmental Council. Smith was also interviewed for Bridge about his new position for the May 28, 2019, piece “New Michigan Environmental Council chief has deep roots in civil rights” by Jim Malewitz.
The Michigan Environmental Council, a “coalition of more than 60 organizations leading the state’s environmentalist movement,” has significant influence on environmental issues in Lansing. Smith shared that he hopes to bring greater diversity to those active in environment advocacy telling Bridge the “concern for the environment is deepest among people of color, the poor and people with strong religious convictions. “In short,” he said in the news release, “the stewardship of our environment is important to just about every Michigander.”
Smith has a stellar background as a dedicated representative and public servant. Having previously directed the local nonprofit Metro Matters for 12 years and as a county commissioner for 14, as well as having served on public and private boards, his experience shows his knowledge of advocacy work at every level. “Starting as a volunteer and working his way up to leadership positions as a program director, executive director and board member, he knows nonprofits from the ground up,” the announcement states. His family has a legacy for public service, which includes powerhouse Michigan leaders like his grandfather, Albert Wheeler, the first African-American mayor of Ann Arbor who “drafted the civil rights clause of the Michigan Constitution,” and his mother, Alma Wheeler Smith, a former legislator and current chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “My life has really been centered around civil rights,” Smith told Bridge.
Smith laid out some of his priorities as CEO in his Bridge interview, with race and class issues at the center of his environmental plans. Smith plans on using unifying messaging around issues such as PFAS—a chemical that often taints drinking water—which Smith described as a “scourge that affects every community. If you don’t know it yet, you’ll know it soon. It’s all of our problem, and it’s an opportunity to have conversations in communities where we haven’t had as deep a presence in the past.”
Conan Smith is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Ford School. He has served as a Washtenaw County Commissioner and Washtenaw Parks and Recreation Commissioner since 2005. He chaired the county commission in 2011 and 2012 and chaired its $200M budget in 2009 and 2011. Smith specializes in developing and leading intergovernmental partnerships to support economic and social justice policies and practices. From 2004 to 2016 he was the executive director of Metro Matters, a Detroit area nonprofit focused on regional public policy.