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Grosse Pointe Farms finance officer selected for prestigious statewide program

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 10, 2019

 Debra Peck Lichtenberg, who has been the city controller and treasurer of Grosse Pointe Farms since June 2017, is participating in a selective statewide leadership program for women in municipal administration.

Debra Peck Lichtenberg, who has been the city controller and treasurer of Grosse Pointe Farms since June 2017, is participating in a selective statewide leadership program for women in municipal administration.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Out of more than 100 applicants statewide, the Grosse Pointes have not one, but two city administrators who were selected for the Michigan Municipal League’s prestigious Women’s Municipal Leadership Program.

Joining Grosse Pointe Shores Finance Officer/Treasurer Rhonda Ricketts in the elite class of about 30 women chosen for this year’s program is Grosse Pointe Farms City Controller/Treasurer Debra Peck Lichtenberg.

The program is supported by the Michigan Municipal League Foundation and is part of the MML’s 16/50 Project to increase training and the number of women in leadership positions in local government. The MML states that women account for more than 50% of the population, but only make up 16% of local chief administrative officers.

“I feel very fortunate that I was chosen,” Peck Lichtenberg said. “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.”

Peck Lichtenberg, a CPA, has been the Farms’ chief financial officer since June 2017. She succeeded John Lamerato, who retired in 2017.

A graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an accounting concentration, Peck Lichtenberg started her career with Plante Moran, where she worked from 1989 to 1998.

“The very first client I worked on was a city,” she said, noting that she started out on the municipal audit team and later also performed audits for school systems and nonprofits as well as commercial entities. A mother of three, Peck Lichtenberg said that when she was expecting her second child, she left to become a stay-at-home mom for 14 years.

By 2012, she wanted to return to the workplace. Remembering how rewarding she found work in municipal finance, Peck Lichtenberg said she spoke with friends at Plante Moran and brushed up on her skills. That enabled her to land a position with Novi, where she was hired as a water and sewer financial services specialist in December 2012. She rose through the ranks quickly there, becoming a senior financial manager in January 2013 and then assistant city treasurer in June 2013, after the deputy treasurer left.

Two years later, the city of Westland came calling. Peck Lichtenberg became that city’s budget director in February 2015, a position she held until coming to the Farms.

“There were a lot of special projects going on at that time (in Westland),” she said, adding that they needed someone with a financial background to navigate those.

In Westland, Peck Lichtenberg said, she served on the labor negotiations team, was the Freedom of Information Act coordinator, helped defend the city in a lawsuit, and made sure fees being charged were fair and covered the cost of the service rendered, among other responsibilities.

“It was really a great opportunity to get involved in a lot of different aspects beyond just number crunching,” she said.

When the position in the Farms opened up, Peck Lichtenberg said she realized it would be a chance to work in a smaller community.

“It’s an amazing place to work,” she said of the Farms, praising her colleagues. “Because we are smaller, I do get to be part of the leadership team.”

A big believer in incorporating best practices, Peck Lichtenberg said she’s looking forward to the MML program as a way to learn not only from the workshops, but also from fellow participants.

“That coming together with your peers and talking about challenges and how they’ve dealt with (them) gives you an opportunity to bring best practices back to your community and (implement those) here,” she said.

Farms City Manager Shane Reeside wasn’t surprised when he learned that Peck Lichtenberg had been invited to participate in the MML program, and he feels she will come back with great new ideas and insight.

“I am used to going to city managers’ conferences, where the room is filled with graying, middle-aged men — myself included,” Reeside said. “The profession needs greater diversity and perspective. Debbie is the ideal participant in the 16/50 program. Not only is she the chief financial officer for the city of Grosse Pointe Farms, she has direct involvement in all major decisions impacting the city. She is highly intelligent, possesses great common sense and other qualities that make her an integral part of the city’s administration. Her participation in this program will serve the city and profession for years to come.”

According to the MML, the Women’s Municipal Leadership Program was launched in 2018 “to give Michigan women training in several areas of municipal management, including municipal budgeting and finance, economic development and (city) council-manager relations.”

Participants must commit to attending each of the five daylong workshops in Lansing, which take place one Friday per month from August through December. The first session was Aug. 23, and the next one is Sept. 20. This program is free, thanks to donors.

“It is unique in that it is an opportunity to be with other women,” Peck Lichtenberg said. “While there are obviously a lot of women in governmental positions, there are fewer women at the highest levels.”