General Session Speakers

Rosalynn Bliss, City Commissioner
Grand Rapids

Bliss-RosalynLeague Trustee Rosalynn Bliss has served as commissioner for Grand Rapids since 2006 and is currently mayor-elect. She is the director of residential services at DA Blodgett-St. John’s and oversees the St. John’s Home Campus, which provides emergency shelter and residential services for abused and neglected children. In addition, Bliss is an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University’s School of Social Work.

Bliss serves on the board of the Grand Rapids Corporate YMCA Board, Huntington Bank’s Women’s Advisory Council, the Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation, and the Dyer-Ives Foundation. She is also a member of the Uptown Corridor Improvement District, Uptown Business Improvement District, the Kent County Land Bank Authority, and is a city liaison with the Friends of GR Parks.

Bliss currently serves on the city’s Legislative Team and is the chair of the Commission Fiscal Committee. She has been recognized and honored locally as well as statewide for her commitment, dedication, and work in the field of child abuse and neglect, and her leadership in the community.

James Freed, City Manager

Port Huron

Freed-James-225x300James Freed, as the chief administrative officer for the City of Port Huron, provides leadership to City staff, oversees the City’s daily operations, develops annual operating budgets, plans long-term capital improvements projects, and oversees project development and execution.

Freed has a decade of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors. This gives him a unique perspective on local government as well as the needs of the business community.

Freed holds a Bachelor of Science from Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in Marion, Indiana, with an emphasis in Political Science. Freed has authored numerous papers on local public policy and its affect on international relations, social work, and the social and economic needs of rural and low income populations.

In addition to his formal education, Freed has proven experience in economic development, community development, government administration, fiscal policy, grant writing, collective bargaining negotiations, project management, environmental protection, and constituent relations.


Joe Minicozzi, Principal
Urban 3


Joe Minicozzi is the principal of Urban3, a consulting company created by Asheville, NC real estate developer Public Interest Projects. Urban3’s work in pioneering geo-spatial representation of economic productivity has prompted a paradigm shift in understanding the economic potency of urbanism and the value of well-designed cities. Their studies of cities in the United States and Canada have affected the reevaluation of public policy and a broader understanding of market dynamics created by tax policy.

Minicozzi is a sought after lecturer on city planning issues, and his work has been featured in numerous journals and at international conferences. He is a founding member of the Western North Carolina-based nonprofit Asheville Design Center and he holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami and Master of Architecture and Urban Design from Harvard University.

Claire Nelson, Founder
Urban Consulate

Nelson-Claire-300x225Claire Nelson is founder of the Urban Consulate, a new project to foster civic and cultural exchange between cities, starting with Detroit, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, thanks to support from Knight Cities. Over the last decade, Nelson has been a passionate advocate for quality of place and civic engagement in Detroit, leading projects including Urban Innovation Exchange, Open City, Declare Detroit, Mind the Gap, Shop Midtown and Bureau of Urban Living.

As past publisher of Model D, Nelson hosted the monthly Speaker Series on urban issues and the “On the Ground” series on neighborhood change, as well as the “Next Big Thing” showcase and annual IdeaLab events. She has also served on advisory boards for Hatch Detroit, D:hive and Invest Detroit’s Urban Retail Loan Fund.

A Chicagoland native, Nelson studied architecture and urbanism at Smith College and Columbia University,graduating from the Shape of Two Cities Program in New York & Paris. Before moving to Detroit, she worked for the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. and The Skyscraper Museum and Van Alen Institute in New York City, where she coordinated the first Creative Cities conference a month after 9/11. Her work has been covered by the New York Times, CNN, USA Today and Next City, and featured in the book For the Love of Cities and the film Lemonade Detroit. In 2015, she was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome and a speaker at TEDxDetroit.

Peterson-Frank-200x300Frank Peterson, City Manager


Frank Peterson has served as the Muskegon City Manager since September 2013. He has worked in local government management since 2004, previously serving as the city manager in both Grant, Michigan and Springfield, Michigan.

A native of Flint, Michigan, Peterson is very interested in community and neighborhood reinvestment and revitalization, and believes strongly in the powerful effects of community outreach and community involvement.

Peterson holds an MPA from Western Michigan University.




Deirdre Waterman, Mayor


Waterman-Deirdre-225x300Deirdre Waterman was elected mayor by the citizens of Pontiac in 2013, becoming the first woman to ever be elected to the position. Previously, she was the founding president of the Friends of the Pontiac Public Library, and served on the Pontiac Public Library Board of Trustees and the Pontiac Charter Revision Committee.

An ophthalmologist by profession, Dr. Waterman is a longtime business owner and operated her practice, Holloway Eye Care, in Pontiac for over 30 years. She was the first African-American female ophthalmologist in the state of Michigan.

Dr. Waterman stepped up as a leader in her profession, serving in a variety of positions, including chairwoman of the National Medical Association, Region IV, and president of the Associated Healthcare Providers. She also served as vice chair of the then-North Oakland Medical Center during its transition to Doctors’ Hospital of Michigan, helping ensure hundred of jobs remained in the city of Pontiac.

She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, with a degree in biology and political science, as well as Meharry Medical College. She completed her residency at the Kresge Eye Institute at Wayne State University.


Breakout Session Speakers

Click on a speaker’s name to read a short professional biography.


Dan Antosik, Research Intern, Michigan Municipal League

Jeff Aronoff, Founder, Sidewalk Ventures

Steven Baker, Councilmember, Berkley

Angela Barbash, Founder, ReConsider

Brian Boyle, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Issue Media Group

Michael Brown, Community Development Director, City of Ironwood

Nikole Brown, Legislative Associate, State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League

Harry Burkholder, Program Coordinator, Land Information Access Association

Michael Cain, City Manager, Boyne City

Glen Catt, President, Catt Development

Terry Croad, Planning Director, Southfield

Katherine Czarnecki, Director, Community Development, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

John DeVol, PE, Fleis VandenBrink

Shannon Draheim, Public Sector Consultants

Steve Duchane, City Manager, Eastpointe

Daniel Durkee, Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber

Rebecca Fleury, City Manager, Battle Creek

Audrey Forbush, Partner, Plunkett Cooney

Luke Forrest, Program Manager, Michigan Municipal League

Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor, Gary, Indiana

Paul Galdes, PE, Fleis VandenBrink

Chris Hackbarth, Director, State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League

David Helisek, Audit Partner, Plante Moran

Natasha Henderson, City Administrator, Flint

Alfredo Hernandez, Associate Program Director, Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance

Debra Horner, Project Manager, UM Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

Sonya Hughes, Vice President of Inclusion, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

David Johnson, CHMM, CP, Fleis VandenBrink

Claire Karner, Community Planner, Land Information Access Association

Edward Klobucher, City Manager, Hazel Park

Laura Krizov, Manager, Michigan Main Street

Deborah Lake, Executive Director, Traverse City Film Festival

John LaMacchia, Legislative Associate, State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League

William Mathewson, General Counsel, Michigan Municipal League

Raymond Minervini, The Minervini Group

Summer Minnick, Director, External Relations and Federal Affairs, Michigan Municipal League

Sheryl Mitchell, City Manager, Albion

Richard Murphy, Program Coordinator, Michigan Municipal League

Mark Nickita, City Commissioner, Birmingham

Megan Norris, Employment & Labor Group Leader, Miller Canfield

Todd O’Grady, Michigan Saves

Jack O’Reilly, Mayor, Dearborn & League Board of Trustees

Jessica Reed, Program Coordinator, Michigan Municipal League

Jennifer Rigterink, Manager, MEDC Redevelopment Ready Communities®

Jon Schneider, City Manager, Newaygo

Russ Soyring, Planning Director, Traverse City

Christina Sauvé, Southeast Michigan Communities Coordinator, Welcoming Michigan

Glenn Simon, Granger Construction

Kurt Swartz, Retention Manager, Michigan Planners

Scott TenBrink, Community Project Manager of Citizen Interaction Design, University of Michigan

Jim Tischler, Director, Community Development Division, Michigan State Housing Authority

Lauren Trible-Laucht, City Attorney, Traverse City

Nathan Triplett, East Lansing Mayor & V.P., Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees

Sarah Triplett, Director, Public Policy, Creative Many

Michelle Watterworth, Partner, Plante Moran

Marja Winters, Asst.City Manager and Community & Economic Development Director, Benton Harbor

Matt Zone, Councilman, Cleveland, OH & National League of Cities 2nd Vice President