Council recognizes longest-serving member in city history

Margene Scott has 24 years of service and counting

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 28, 2017

 A picture of Margene Scott that can be seen in Madison Heights City Hall.

A picture of Margene Scott that can be seen in Madison Heights City Hall.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Margene Scott has long been passionate about the subject of history.

She played a key role in the opening and reopening of the Heritage Rooms — the city’s museum in the lower level of City Hall — and co-authored the Madison Heights edition of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America,” released in 2014. A shutterbug who’s often seen with a camera at community events, Scott relishes preserving the past so that future generations can learn from it and appreciate their roots. 

Now Scott herself has made history, becoming the longest-serving council member in the history of Madison Heights, with 24 years of service. During their regular meeting July 24, her peers on City Council issued a certificate of recognition honoring Scott for her impressive feat.

“What a pleasure it’s been to be able to serve our city for 24 years,” Scott said. “They’ve gone very fast. It took a while to accomplish some things, and I’m still working on accomplishing some other things, and some new ideas.”

She took a moment to recognize the next most senior members on City Council: Richard Clark, who is retiring from council this year, and Robert Corbett. Clark took office in 1997, and Corbett was installed in 1999.

“We have a great council, and it’s been great to be part of it,” Scott said. “Thank you also to the city administration and their support, making my job very easy.”

The road to council
Scott herself first joined the council in 1993, after years of trying. She first became involved in politics in 1983, a divisive time for City Council.

This was due in large part, she said, to the sudden firing of the city manager at the time, Ernest Fisher. Scott said the city manager was very popular with the people, and the firing was controversial. 

Council meetings were starting to be broadcast on cable TV at the time, so residents could watch from home, and many were upset once they realized what was happening. Public discontent led to a campaign called “Recall 3 in ’83,” which attempted to recall three of the council members involved in the firing. Scott was on the campaign’s steering committee.

The campaign was a huge success, and voters approved the recall by a margin of 2 to 1. The recall was also the first successful one in the history of Oakland County. Now deeply involved in local government, Scott volunteered her time in the elections of candidates she admired, and started regularly attending council meetings.

In 1988, there was a vacancy on the council due to the resignation of Susan Kraimer. A special election was held the following year, with 11 residents running to fill the vacancy. Back then, a primary election was always needed to narrow the field to just two candidates for the general election.

The two winning candidates were Scott and a well-known former police officer in the city, Russell Pearce. Both worked hard on their campaigns, but in the end, Scott lost by a margin of 126 votes and Pearce secured the vacancy, albeit with a short term.

Not wanting to give up, Scott went on to run for office six more times, including in the primary and general elections in 1989, 1991 and 1993. Each time, she came in fourth place in the general election, with the incumbents being reelected each time.

“Campaigning for office in those years was very time-consuming and required huge mailings with many fundraisers, walking door to door, and making phone calls for voting reminders,” Scott said. “We would spent countless hours, physically going over the voter records in the City Clerk’s Office by hand, in order to get contact lists of frequent voters. City record compilations weren’t available, computers weren’t popular at that time, and social media was unavailable.”

Scott’s lucky break finally came in June 1993, when Councilman Lindell Ross resigned to begin his race for mayor and Scott was installed to fill the vacancy.

“When I was installed, we made history as, for the first time, there was a majority of women on the council,” Scott said, noting that other than herself, there was also Marilyn Russell, Elva Mills and Mary Stema.

The mayor at the time was George Suarez, late namesake of Suarez Friendship Woods, home of the Red Oaks Nature Center. The other council members included Gary McGillivray, now a commissioner for Oakland County, and Pearce.

Issues of the day included establishing and continuing decorum at meetings and monitoring what was then a generous budget, Scott said.

She added that council members were able to attend local and national conferences for training and networking, and she served on the Cable Television Committee and the Environmental Citizens Committee, which no longer exists.

In 1993, the city completed its first five-year capital improvement plan and its first set of financial policies. The city also addressed its long-term infrastructure replacements through road improvements, the 1994 reconstruction of 12 Mile Road from Campbell to John R roads, and traffic signal upgrades.

Previously, in 1988, the trash-burning incinerator owned by the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority had been closed.

Following this, in 1994, the city worked with the state legislature to establish a statute for a 1,000-foot setback limit from schools, senior facilities and residential homes for any new incinerators.

Scott said another change in local government occurred when the city department heads, city manager and council met to begin a goal plan for each year, establishing priorities and directions for the coming year. Jon Austin was the new city manager who had been hired in 1992, and he hired many employees who are still with the city today, including Ben Myers, the current city manager; Roslyn Yerman, the library director; Jim Schafer, the community development director; Amy Misczak, human resources director; and Melissa Marsh, assistant city manager.

Pet projects
Some of Scott’s favorite endeavors have been quality-of-life improvements, such as building the Red Oaks Nature Center, previously known as the Madison Heights Nature Center; paving the trails at Suarez Friendship Woods; establishing the annual Random Acts of Kindness Week, beginning in 1996; and establishing the city’s Heritage Rooms, first opened in February 2005 at the former Schoenhals Elementary School, now Madison Elementary in the Madison school district, and then moving it to the lower level of City Hall in 2014.

She said some of the most rewarding moments include receiving recognition for activities during Random Acts of Kindness Week — both nationally, from Life Magazine, and internationally, during a live interview aired in London, England, by the British Broadcasting Company.

“But equally rewarding is helping citizens that are in unfortunate circumstances, such as our recent flood victims in August 2014,” Scott said. “There have been many private neighborhood problems that were solved for our residents as well. Every citizen deserves the right to enjoy a peaceful, safe environment in their residence in our city. It’s so gratifying when we’re able to alleviate their problems.”

A personal achievement for Scott was graduating from the Elected Officials Academy of the Michigan Municipal League after many years of classes. She also achieved her educational Gold Award status in the National League of Cities. She was elected and served as the president of the MML in 2004-05, and visited and talked with 200 Michigan cities, representing Madison Heights and the MML.

“Looking forward, I’d like to focus on educational opportunities for our council so we’re all aware of legalities and how to be an effective local government leader,” Scott said. “Networking through local groups such as (the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) and the MML is such an advantage to our operations and future issues that we may incur. I’m looking forward to the input and programs suggested by our newer members and citizens.”

She invites everyone to come visit the Heritage Rooms and learn more about their city’s story. Current hours at the museum are 3-7 p.m. every Tuesday, with holidays being exceptions, in the lower level of City Hall, 300 W. 13 Mile Road, just west of John R Road. There is a handicapped entrance through the elevator at the northwest doors of City Hall, across the parking lot from the main entrance of the Police Department.

Scott also said she’s eager to give personal tours to groups, Boy Scouts, classes and individuals at any time, even evenings and weekends.

Prospective visitors can arrange a tour by calling the library at (248) 588-7763 or (248) 837-2852, or by emailing the Heritage Rooms at heritagerooms@madison-heights.org.

Inspiring service
Scott continues to serve the community today. Her peers on council showered her with praise. 

“I can’t thank Margene enough for her tireless service to the city over the years,” said City Councilman David Soltis. “I always ask her for advice and guidance. She’s so knowledgable and a fantastic asset to our city. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her on my first term.”

After the council meeting, Corbett said that Scott is very much the “heart” of City Council — always one to show appreciation for others, and compassion in their time of need.

“A lot of people in public office want to be the center of attention all the time, but Margene goes out of her way to recognize everyone in the community who’s working to make it better, be it the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, civic groups and so on. Margene, at one time or another, has made sure that they receive recognition for their contributions to the community,” Corbett said. “And when there is a misfortune that has fallen on members of our community, Margene has been the one who served as the conscience of the city government in recognizing those in pain and struggle, and trying to offer them our support.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said that Scott played a key role in inspiring him to run for council himself.

“I’ve only served on council now with Councilwoman Scott for three years, but I grew up watching her serve in this office,” Bliss said during the council meeting. “For all those out there in the audience aspiring to sit in these seats, I see no better example of loving the community they serve than Margene Scott.”

He then turned to Scott herself, who was visibly moved. 

“As a boy at John Page Middle School, I remember you took the time to answer questions on how the city is structured, and to answer a question I had written down,” Bliss said to her. “I could honestly say I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it weren’t for your inspiration, and the time you took to to be there and show us what an amazing public servant you are.”

After the meeting, Scott shared some advice for future council hopefuls.

“For those wishing to pursue civic service, my advice would be to join in the activities and local committees so you get to know what Madison Heights is all about and what makes us such a vital city,” Scott said. “Read and study the issues, and most importantly, attend council meetings so you can experience local government in action. Speak with our council members and express your opinions at the podium. Contribute your time.”

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