By Caroline Weber Kennedy
One of the most active and successful areas regarding municipal cooperation and collaboration in this state is the Upper Peninsula. The cities of Iron River and Stambaugh consolidated with the village of Mineral Hills in 2000. This former mining community once again holds a valuable commodity waiting to be tapped—a very timely wealth of knowledge and experience in consolidation matters.
In March 2000, the League published an article in The Review on the unprecedented consolidation of these three municipal entities. The results of the long consolidation process were reported:
The people of the three communities approved the adoption of a charter which provides for the consolidation of three units into one new city with an estimated population of 3,576 effective July 1, 2000. Of the 949 persons voting, 76.6 percent cast their ballots in favor of the proposal.
This success came on the heels of two previous attempts to pass other consolidation proposals. The result surpassed the highest expectations of even the proposal’s staunchest supporters. By community, the vote was as follows:
Iron River – 394 (yes); 75 (no)
Stambaugh – 270 (yes); 124 (no)
Mineral Hills – 63 (yes); 23 (no)
There were of course sticky issues during the consolidation process, such as: Will there be a name change? What happens to business names if the community name(s) change (what does Village Auto become when it is no longer located in a village, but a city)? What about street addresses? What about contracts, employees, and elected officials? The three communities were able to work these issues out. The key was a long “engagement.” Not so long that a date was never set, but long enough to take advantage of attrition in each municipality, combining positions and functions, creating new roles and phasing roles out, and renegotiating.
If you are thinking about consolidation, the first thing you need to do is identify all possible stakeholders, consider their concerns, and be prepared to answer questions thoughtfully and truthfully. Then, practice saying the “c” word out loud and settle in for a long engagement.
Iron River has many of the answers you’ll need up front and along the way. Like any successful marriage, it’s hard work. School rivalries often serve as community identifiers, but as these districts consolidated, differences dissolved. And despite the vast array of ethnicities here from the mining and timber eras, the people remaining have a shared history and socio-economic base. One reason it worked for Iron River is that the people have more in common than not—and acknowledgement of that is a critical first step.
History Of Consolidation Efforts In Michigan
1982 – Vote to merge the city of Battle Creek and a portion of Battle Creek Township passed 3-to-1.
1993 – After a five-year effort, the proposed consolidation of the village of Spring Lake and city of Ferrysburg failed after it was voted down in Spring Lake (it passed in Ferrysburg).
2000 – The cities of Iron River and Stambaugh, and the village of Mineral Hills consolidated into the city of Iron River.
2006 – A consolidation effort for the city of Grand Blanc and Grand Blanc Township failed. While the township was highly in favor of consolidation, the city was opposed.
Caroline Weber Kennedy is manager of field operations for the League. You may reach her at 906-428-0100 or [email protected].