Background Information on the
Michigan Municipal League
The history of the Michigan Municipal League is a story of municipal
leaders who volunteered to build and support a cooperative organization
to improve municipal government. The Leagues motto is Cooperation
solves any problem, and its history illustrates that axiom. In the
century since its founding in 1899, the League has brought together city
and village officials to exchange information, to learn from one another,
to develop unified policies on matters of municipal concern and to speak
as a collective voice on those matters including, most importantly, home
rule for local government.
Initially, they came together to come to grips with the state
and, more specifically, the state legislature. At the time, all cities
were chartered directly by the legislature. In the words of Harold D.
Smith, the first director of the League, they were at the mercy
of a body composed of members who had little or no experience in municipal
affairs. Their initial efforts were focused on securing home rule
for cities and villages, or as Smith put it, bringing impressively
to the attention of a rural legislature the problems of growing cities
in the state.
While the focus is no longer solely on the legislature, local officials
have collaborated over the past century to represent and protect the interests
of local government in Lansing. This has been done by city and village
officials who define and shape League policy and who contact state officials
to secure action, as well as by League staff acting as registered lobbyists
for cities and villages. Later efforts included creating a League advocacy
office in Lansing, hosting an annual legislative conference and using
a variety of grass roots tactics to achieve political influence. Indeed,
much of the work of the League on a day-to-day basis can be viewed as
coming to grips with the state.
But, they also gathered together to come to grips with themselves. In
some ways, the perspective of local government officials a century ago
was not unlike that of officials today. Elected and appointed municipal
officials knew they had to improve the management and operation of local
governments if they were to win the confidence of a cynical citizenry.
The first constitution of the League, adopted in 1899, stated the Leagues
purpose as the general improvement of every branch of municipal
Hence, they convened to share information, to learn from one another,
and to stimulate improvements in municipal government. The products
their efforts, a century later, are manifested in a broad education and
conference program, the inquiry and referral service and the resource
center, a human resources/labor relations program, an employee benefits
service and special efforts related to risk management and municipal
This represents the other part of the work of the League: improving governing
and government for the citizens of Michigans communities.
Contact: The Michigan Municipal League