General Session Speakers

Renee Johnston, President & CEO
Saginaw Community Foundation

Johnston-Renee-225x300After graduating from law school, Johnston began her 9 year career with Delphi Corporation in Saginaw, where she held positions in human resources, lean manufacturing, and manufacturing management. Johnston then transferred to a Delphi division in Troy as a human resources manager.

Two years later, Johnston had the opportunity to change careers, and was offered the position as president & CEO of the Saginaw Community Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to enrich the quality of life for all the people of Saginaw County. The foundation is both a grantmaker and a grantseeker.  It exercises philanthropic leadership and acts as a catalyst in identifying community needs and opportunities. The Foundation often works in partnership with others in addressing those needs.  The Foundation is building permanent endowments to meet the changing needs of Saginaw County.  It makes grants and raises funds for a wide variety of charitable purposes, including education, the arts, human service, health and welfare, economic development and civic improvement.

In addition to her leadership with the Foundation, Johnston played a role with the development of the Heroes for Kids fundraiser; Saginaw County’s Promise; the Youth First program; Art & About. She is also a sustaining member of the Junior League of Saginaw Valley, another non-profit organization.In the past, she has held positions as program chair, president-elect and president. Johnston enjoys being a part of this organization, whose purpose is to develop the potential of women and improve the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.


Marilyn Schlack, President
Kalamazoo Valley Community College

Schlack-Marilyn-225x300Marilyn Schlack has been president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College since October 1982. Prior to becoming the first female president of a Michigan community college, she served as executive dean and associate dean of instruction at KVCC. She received her doctorate in education from Western Michigan University and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan.

Over the years, President Schlack has served on many local, state and national professional and community organizations, including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Board of Directors; Fifth Third Bank Board of Directors-Southwest Michigan; Downtown Tomorrow, Inc.; and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. She chaired the Southwest Michigan Healthcare Coalition, the Arcadia Commons West Committee, and the Kalamazoo County Chamber of Commerce, the first woman selected for that post. President Schlack currently serves on the boards of Southwest Michigan First, Kalamazoo LISC, and the Greg Jennings Foundation.  She is vice chairman of the board of the W.E. Upjohn Institute, and is a Director of the Center for Michigan.

Nationally, she was a member of executive committee of the Board of Directors for the American Council on Education and chaired its Commission on Educational Credits and Credentials, she was a member of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Community Colleges, and served on the presidential Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners.

Suzanne Schulz, Managing Director of Design, Development and Community Engagement
City of Grand Rapids

Schulz-Suzanne-225x300Suzanne Schulz, AICP, is the Managing Director of Design, Development and Community Engagement for the City of Grand Rapids. Suzanne oversees the Planning Department, Development Center, Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Historic Preservation Commission.

She was the project manager for the City’s 2002 Master Plan and 2011 Green Grand Rapids Plan, principal author of the City’s form-based Zoning Ordinance, and an integral part of the team that worked with the Commission-appointed Transformation Advisors and the Sustainable Streets Task Force to rebuild city finances.

Suzanne serves as Treasurer of the Michigan Association of Planning and is a board member of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. She is the former chair of the Michigan Complete Streets Advisory Council. Current work includes the development of a Vital Streets Plan, GR Driving Change campaign, involvement in the effort to restore the city’s namesake rapids to the Grand River, and the South Division Corridor Plan.


Michael Shuman
Economist, Attorney, Author, and Entrepreneur

Shuman-Michael-225x300Michael H. Shuman is an economist, attorney, author, and entrepreneur. He’s also an adjunct instructor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, a Fellow at Cutting Edge Capital and at the Post-Carbon Institute, and a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE).

He has authored, coauthored, or edited nine books. His most recent book, which was just published by Chelsea Green in May 2015, is The Local Economy Solution:  How Innovative, Self-Financing Pollinator Enterprises Can Grow Jobs and Prosperity. One of his previous books, The Small Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition (Berrett-Koehler, 2006), received as bronze prize from the Independent Publishers Association for best business book of 2006.

A prolific speaker, Shuman has given an average of more than one invited talk per week, mostly to local governments and universities, for the past 30 years. He has lectured in 47 U.S. states and eight countries. He blogs regularly at


Varachia-Ebrahim-225x225Ebrahim Varachia, President & Co-Founder

Ebrahim Varachia is the president and co-founder of Patronicity, a civic and community-based crowdfunding platform that developed the CrowdGranting model through partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Municipal League.

After completing his degree in International Development, which focused on creating sustainable businesses in developing countries, Varachia was committed to having a local impact and moving to Detroit. He translated his focus into urban revitalization and began working on two startups. As an entrepreneur, Varachia was seeking ways to innovate community development through increased civic participation, and CrowdGranting with Patronicity was developed.


Breakout Session Speakers

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

Matt Bach, Director of Media Relations, Michigan Municipal League
Jeff Campbell, Assistant City Manger & Community Development Director, Hazel Park
Kelly Clarke, Executive Director, Kalamazoo County Land Bank
Sarah Craft, Program Coordinator, Civic Innovation Labs, Michigan Municipal League
Bridget Doyle, Community Relations Director, Sterling Heights
Cathleen Edgerly, Director, Howell Main Street DDA
Dima El-Gamal, Associate Engineer, Stantec
Robert Ferrari, Director, Communication Strategies & Design, Michigan Municipal League
Brandon Fournier, Attorney, Howard L. Shifman, PC
Chris Hackbarth, Director, State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League
Riley Hollenbaugh, Executive Director, Saline Main Street
John LaMacchia, Legislative Associate, State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League
Dave Marshke, Public Utilities Superintendent, City of Burton
Richard Murphy, Program Coordinator, Civic Innovation Labs, Michigan Municipal League
Jennifer Rigterink, Legislative Associate, State Affairs, Michigan Municipal League
Diane Sheridan, Executive Director, Grand Haven Main Street/DDA
Howard Shifman, President and Founder, Howard L. Shifman, PC
Scott TenBrink, Community Project Manager, Citizen Interaction Design, University of Michigan
Kirsten Wyatt, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Emerging Local Government Leaders
Paula Zelenko, Mayor, City of Burton




League Staff

Luke Forrest, Program Manager, Michigan Municipal League
William Mathewson, General Counsel, Michigan Municipal League
Summer Minnick, Director, External Relations and Federal Affairs, Michigan Municipal League
Jack O’Reilly, Mayor, Dearborn & League Board of Trustees
Jessica Reed, Program Coordinator, Michigan Municipal League