Engage and Represent: Serve on a Local Board or Committee
As local communities gear up for November elections, this is an opportune time to remind Team Orange that there are plenty of additional ways to engage and represent in your local government. Across the Grand Traverse region, several volunteer boards and commissions have open seats. Serving on a board, commission, or committee is an excellent way for citizens to be involved and find their voice for local initiatives.
Below you will find a list of regional opportunities, and resources for many volunteer opportunities. Each municipality handles these citizen appointments differently, but typically openings will be listed online. There is never a wrong time to apply and express interest in serving, even if there are no current openings. Typically, you can do this through the Clerk’s office. Unless otherwise stated, you must be a resident in the municipality that you are seeking an appointment.
Traverse City is always accepting applications and you can do so by going to the Clerk’s office or visiting the City’s website. The following boards have vacancies. Links go to their descriptions, schedules, and minutes.
- Planning Commission
- Housing Commission
- Economic Development Corporation Board
- Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Board
- Airport Commission
- BATA Board (rural representative)
- Parks & Recreation Commission
- Traverse Area District Library
- Economic Development Corporation Board
Leelanau County has openings for the following opportunities.
- Planning Commission
- Parks and Recreation
- Airport Commission
- Garfield Township has openings (PDF) on Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation, and Grand Traverse Joint Planning Commission (think the Commons). If interested, you can download the Board Appointment Policy and Application (PDF) and send a completed copy to Garfield Township to the attention of Supervisor Chuck Korn, 3848 Veterans Drive, Traverse City MI 49684. You may also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- East Bay Township posts openings on boards and commissions under employment postings and you can see updates by going to the drop down menu, “How do I…” on their website. Each board is different, but typically a letter of interest is requested. If you are interested, you can email Township Supervisor, Beth Friend, email@example.com
- Blair Township, apply and express interest by contacting Township Clerk, Lynette Wolfgang.
- Long Lake Township is always seeking applicants to serve on Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation. To apply, download the Application for Appointment (PDF) and return it to Township Supervisor, Karen J. Rosa, firstname.lastname@example.org or deliver it to Township Hall at 8870 North Long Lake Road.
- Elmwood Township asks interested parties to send a completed Application to Become Involved (PDF) form and resume to 10090 E. Lincoln Rd. Traverse City, MI 49684 or email it to Township Clerk, Connie M. Preston, email@example.com. Committees of interest include Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation, Marina Committee, and Public Safety Committee.
For vacancies in Kalkaska County, download this full listing of boards and committees (PDF). The term ending column will give you the current openings. To apply, send an email of interest to County Clerk, Deborah Hill, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you interested in a municipality not listed here? Or, have questions on what it takes to serve on a board or committee, send Norte’s Advocacy Director a message at Gary@elgrupnorte.org
Engage and Represent!
Norte Launches Planning Program for Teens
For Immediate Release
NORTE LAUNCHES URBAN PLANNING PROGRAM FOR TEENS
August 22, 2019 — Traverse City, MI. Norte Advocacy is introducing teens to urban planning this fall. Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community is a six-week, student-informed practical course rooted in experiential understanding of how communities are planned, built, and changed over time.
The program’s six weekly meetups will be facilitated by Norte’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Director, Gary Howe, and owner of Parallel Solutions, Megan Olds, and will feature guest speakers from Traverse City’s professional planning community.
“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community is built around a series of on-the-ground exercises that delve into student experiences and perceptions of community,” said Olds. “Young people have a real interest in learning how, and why, communities work — and, in some cases, don’t work. Through the course, we hope to help them develop the skills to identify experiences related to community and place-based design, understand different lenses and contexts, and advocate for the things they want to see in their neighborhoods and community.”
The program is open to 13- to 18-year-olds interested in community leadership and planning. Students will graduate with advanced observational and communication skills in neighborhood planning. Course participants will shape the course’s direction, and will be supported by the Norte Advocacy team in any post-program efforts they decide to undertake.
“The things we can learn about any community are boundless, and when we start to learn about a community from other perspectives, the possibilities for understanding and supporting our neighbors are endless,” said Howe. “The Explore program is designed to give students layer upon layer of tools and skills to create a solid foundation for a lifetime of informed engagement.”
The course is structured around six unique ways to explore a community, including experiencing mobility challenges from the perspective of someone using a wheelchair and seeing a streetscape through the eyes of an engineer. The advocacy curriculum will grow from participant-defined goals and projects.
The program runs September 29 through November 2 with weekly, 90-minute Sunday meet-ups in locations determined by planned experiences, weather and student input. The class costs $35 per participant, with scholarships available. The program is sponsored by the League of Michigan Bicyclists and Parallel Solutions. Sign up for the program is open through September 8.
Learn more and sign up: Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community
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Megan Olds has dedicated her 20-year career to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. She was a former Director of Regional Planning at Networks Northwest, and served as a past board member of the Michigan Association of Planning and of Michigan’s Complete Streets Advisory Council. She worked for seven years as the Associate Director and Director of Development for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and openness in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. You can find out more about her firm’s services, clients, and recent projects at www.parallelmi.com.
Gary Howe brings over 10 years of direct experience in creating and advocating for public policy and planning processes that support healthy transportation and socially-engaging public spaces to his role as Norte’s Advocacy Director. He served as a City Commissioner for the City of Traverse City from 2013-2017, in addition to serving on the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Neahtawanta Center, SEEDS, and International Affairs Forum. He is also a writer and New York Times-published photographer with over 20 years of teaching experience in China, Taiwan and Traverse City, including 15 years as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. You can see some of his photography on Insta at @GLH_Image and follow his writing and advocacy on Twitter @GLHJR.
Why language matters and accidents aren’t accidents
by Gary Howe, Advocacy Director
Implicit bias in the language we use to discuss walking and biking was a key topic through the 2019 Grand Traverse Advocate Academy. For example, we talked a lot about windshield bias and how it informs policies, designs, and use of public spaces. It’s a large part why we need pro-walk, pro-bike advocacy. There’s also a need for citizen advocates to be aware of how their own language shapes discussions. Too often, we use language that categorizes people based on their mobility choice; our fellow citizens become pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. This puts our neighbors, and their behavior, at a distance from ourselves.
The reality is that how we choose to move about the community doesn’t define us. Most people I know use many different modes of travel depending on their needs, comfort level, and what’s available. I’ve challenged myself to embrace the multi-modal within me and within every one of us. I strive to have empathy for everyone I meet on the road of life, regardless of how they are moving about. I believe it will lead me to be a better advocate: if I advocate for improvements that benefit everyone, instead of just a few, my efforts will be more effective. (See the Language Matters Cheat Sheet below.)
Another aspect of language bias is found in the media and police reports covering traffic crashes. We don’t have to look very hard to find language bias in media as often the headlines are enough to give many of us pause: ”Pedestrian Hit by Car.” It’s as if autonomous vehicles are already here! Or this one from the 2006 Traverse City Record-Eagle: “Car strikes, kills pedestrian.” This passive, clinical language obscures agency. In addition to dropping pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist, try replacing “car” with any other inanimate object and see how it sounds. “Man hit by hammer.” “Piano strikes, kills woman.” “Banana slams into drugstore.”
In a recent Outside Magazine piece, Joe Lindsey examines the issue of language’s legal impact, highlighting two studies that connect language bias in media coverage and police reports. Quick-breaking news coverage laden with implicit language bias tends to anchor blame on inanimate objects, regardless of the facts. There are real consequences for everyone involved, legally and personally.
Forging a Better Path
Team Orange can commit to more accurate and inclusive language. We can check ourselves when we fall into categorizing others based on mode choices. And we can catch ourselves when we use the word “accident” to describe predictable and preventable traffic crashes. Consider signing your name to the “Crash Not Accident” website: pledge to stop saying ”accident.’
Saying accident instead of crash is most unhelpful framing. First and foremost, it suggests that nothing could have been done. And it suggests that our car-centric land use, street designs, and policies are unchangeable. This is unacceptable. As a society, we must demand answers and accountability for the 6 million car accidents crashes and 40,000 deaths a year on US streets and roads alone.
These so-called accidents are preventable. As Lindsay notes:
‘Accident’ conveys inevitability. You can trace virtually every crash to something upstream, whether human error, poor street design, or something else. Almost every crash is preventable.
I will not call traffic crashes “accidents.” I will educate others about why “crash” is a better word.
What’s your experience?
*Above graphics from, Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting
- How We Talk About Drivers Hitting Cyclists (Outside Magazine)
- When covering car crashes, be careful not to blame the victim
- If You Want to Get Away with Murder, Use Your Car
- Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting
- We don’t say “plane accident.” We shouldn’t say “car accident” either.
Continued Learning for Citizen Advocates
We recently shared the story of the 2019 Advocate Academy with the primary funder of this year’s program, the League of Michigan Bicyclists. This is an an adapted version of the original report published by LMB. You can meet this year’s graduates on May 9 at their graduation celebration. There will be a chance to introduce yourself, talk community, enjoy a beverage, and then tour by bike the three project locations identified during the academy.
The Grand Traverse Advocate Academy is a call to community action. It’s aimed at fellow citizens who see missing sidewalks and say, “we can do better than this and I’m going to do something about it.”
We’re all familiar with similar stories because they are everywhere. A mom sees a need for a better crosswalk. A group of downtown office workers wants a bike lane. A family wants safe access to a park. Hopes and dreams are part of the community and it takes work to realize them. The Advocate Academy helps citizen dreamers become citizen advocates.
This year’s 5-week session began like last year with the crafting of a personal narrative. We do this because the values driving our personal narratives are powerful tools for persuasion. When we articulate them as individuals and then as a coalition, our advocacy becomes shared. Those shared stories become the foundation to goals we work to put in place.
In the first week, we borrowed from the author Daniel Pink and used the Pixar Pitch from his book, To Sell is Human. The framing activates our brain’s natural inclination to story–it draws us in. Read the following example from our class and see how you nod in agreement.
‘Once upon a time, there was a mom and her young son. Every day, the mom drove across town with her son to drop him off at preschool and then go to work. Summer traffic was terrible and the 3-mile trip could sometimes take up to 45 minutes! Because of that, the mom became fed up and decided to ride her bike with a bike trailer instead. Because of that, the two had to cross several unsafe intersections and/or risk their safety using bike lanes on busy streets. Until finally, a group of spirited and passionate citizens (GTAA) got together and made changes to improve bike and pedestrian safety in the city.’
The academy is a lot to process. But, as an introduction to local advocacy, we hope three broad lessons come across.
- Advocate for Others. That advocating for something larger than yourself is empowering. Speaking up for a better community creates opportunities that can help your cause.
- Team Building. That team building is a powerful tool. Joining forces shows wide support and diversifies your coalition’s skillset.
- There’s Help. That there are tools and organizations within your reach to help you achieve your goal. Norte’s Neighborhood Pro-walk/Pro-Bike Advocacy program is one such resource.
For 2020, the key questions to examine include the length of each session and the course itself. There is a wide agreement for more time to process information and to work with each other on a real project. Norte will look to refine the course material and presentation. Evaluations suggest that more time learning tactics, strategy, and planning concepts will help build confidence. And finally, we will include more opportunities to learn from one another and practice advocating. This will help build a practical understanding of the concepts and show how a few Citizen Advocates can indeed effect change.
In addition, there will be a continued opportunity for direct, on the ground learning through walking audits, pop-up demonstrations, and tactile urbanism to demonstrate the need for safer, more inviting design of our public spaces.
The 2019 Grand Traverse Advocate Academy was co-sponsored by Groundwork Center. This year’s academy also received a micro-grant from the League of Michigan Bicyclists. Norte says thank you to both of these awesome partners.”