General Session Speakers
Rosalynn Bliss, City Commissioner
League 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
James 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
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
Claire 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.
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
Deirdre 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 professional, 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
Rich Blachford, Consultant, Newaygo Economic Development – The Stream
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
Glen Catt, President, Catt Development
Terry Croad, Planning Director, Southfield
Katherine Czarnecki, Director, Community Development, Michigan Economic Development Corporation
John DeVol, PE, Fleis VandenBrink
Don DeVries, PE, Fleis VandenBrink
Shannon Draheim, Public Sector Consultants
Steve Duchane, City Manager, Eastpointe
Daniel Durkee, Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber
Audrey Forbush, Partner, Plunkett Cooney
Luke Forrest, Program Manager, Michigan Municipal League
Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor, Gary, Indiana
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
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®
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