Selected for Michigan Municipal League board, Mayor Stephen Gawron to tackle state’s ‘disinvestment in our cities’

Mayor Stephen Gawron

Mayor Stephen Gawron’s work advocating for the city of Muskegon, and the state of Michigan as a whole, has landed him a leadership position with the Michigan Municipal League [MML]—a statewide nonprofit organization that just named Gawron as one of its three new board members.

“Mayor Gawron has been a strong advocate of not only his community but of the state,” MML Director of Communications Matt Bach said in an interview on Friday. “Muskegon, under his leadership, has been a leader in a lot of ways. Muskegon has been out front on the things we talk about a lot, like placemakingtrying to create vibrant spaces that attract people and places, which your Farmers Market and other places in Muskegon are doing.”

In addition to Gawron, who has been Muskegon’s mayor since 2014, the League selected Holland City Manager Keith Van Beek and Ypsilanti City Manager Frances McMullan to serve on its 18-member board that governs the nonprofit organization representing Michigan’s cities, villages and urban townships. The group aims to support these municipalities through a variety of initiatives, including lawmaker trainings and advocacy at the state and federal levels.

Board members are selected from throughout Michigan; current board members represent such communities as Detroit, Sault Ste. Marie, Midland, Flint, and Boyne City.

Mayor Gawron was recommended to serve on the board because he’s been an excellent advocate and leader in his community for many years,” Bach said. “In addition, he has been very involved throughout the state. For example, he’s a frequent participant at Michigan Municipal League events and conferences and is an active member of the Urban Core Mayors organization that represents Michigan’s 13 urban centers.”

Calling what the MLL provides “nothing less than phenomenal,” Gawron said he is thrilled to join the board.

“I think being selected is reflective of the good work we’re doing in the city of Muskegon,” Gawron said. “Not only will I be able to interact with other dynamic individuals and organizations, but we’re bringing a lot to the table too because of our phenomenal changes in Muskegon and Muskegon County.”

During his upcoming tenure on the MLL board, Gawron noted he is particularly looking forward to addressing the significant drop in state funding to municipalities. Since 2002, the state legislature has withheld more than $8 billion in funding earmarked for Michigan’s local governments, according to the MML. The MML and other community leaders have accused state lawmakers of diverting that $8 billion to fill state budget holes.

Muskegon has lost $25.9 million in revenue sharing since 2002, the MML reported through its Save MI City initiative. Revenue sharing refers to the portion of the sales tax collected by the state that is meant to go to local governments.

“One of the key things we are doing right now is getting Lansing to keep our cities strong,” Gawron said, referring to the MML. “There has been such a disinvestment in our cities. A key focus of ours is reminding Lansing that we need resources to be returned to the municipalities in order to fix our streets and our infrastructure.”

These cuts from the state have led to municipal governments across Michigan reducing police and fire personnel and slashing funding for street improvements, among other cost-saving measures, MML CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin said.

“Clearly, cities and villages across Michigan have already learned to do more with less, but the collective loss of more than $8 billion over the last 15 years is no longer tenable for our communities,” Gilmartin said in a November press release. “There’s just no more room for our governmental entities to cut—additional losses now will negatively impact the way they deliver services for residents, which hurts the viability of Michigan as a competitive state in the Midwest and beyond.”

In Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $61.9 billion budget that she proposed Thursday, the governor included a 2.5 percent increase in statutory revenue sharing for cities and counties, which would total $267.6 million for cities and $232.2 million for counties, as well as a 1.9 percent increase in constitutional revenue sharing. 

“While the 2.5 percent increase in statutory revenue sharing is appreciated, it is important that policymakers recognize it is still about $50 million less than it was nine years ago, when Gov. Rick Snyder took office,” Gilmartin said. 

It is also “$700 million short of full funding under the statutory formula, which is repeatedly ignored by the legislature and administration,” Gilmartin said, referring to a revenue sharing formula passed in the late 1990s.

In addition to fighting for more state funding for Muskegon and other Michigan cities, Gawron emphasized a variety of other work being done by the MLL, including trainings for newly elected officials and ongoing workshops for municipal executives, like city managers or village superintendents.

“They provide a myriad of innovative and positive programming, including in the past 24 months developing a program that is really encouraging and helping to train and place more women into executive municipal positions,” Gawron said. “It’s a phenomenal resource and effort on their part to really bolster and strengthen the ability of municipalities to be inclusive.”

The full MML board voted in late January to appoint Gawron to the board; he will attend his first board meeting on March 25.

Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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