Farmington Mayor Joe LaRussa recently shared the goals he has for the city.

Farmington Mayor Joe LaRussa recently shared the goals he has for the city.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

New mayor looks ahead to FiberCity, Maxfield redevelopment

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published January 23, 2024


FARMINGTON — Since being appointed as Farmington’s mayor in November, Joe LaRussa has been settling into his new role.

LaRussa has served on Farmington’s City Council since 2017 and was mayor pro tem prior to his appointment.

LaRussa was unanimously appointed by his fellow City Council members at a meeting Nov. 27.

“It was very gratifying, and it was also humbling, because I know what a large responsibility it is,” LaRussa said. “I got a chance to learn from two mayors before me — Steve Schneemann and Sara Bowman. Serving as the mayor pro tem for four years with Sara gave me an even closer look at what the role was and how to be effective. So I feel very grateful that I had a chance to learn from two other very successful mayors.”

Schneemann is currently serving on Farmington’s City Council.

“Excited to see the good things that you’re going to continue doing for (the) city,” Schneemann said at the Nov. 27 City Council meeting.

At the same meeting, Johnna Balk, who has been on Farmington’s City Council since 2021, was appointed as Farmington’s mayor pro tem, with LaRussa, Schneemann and Kevin Parkins approving her appointment. Schneemann made the nomination.

Maria Taylor was the lone City Council member to vote against Balk’s appointment. She explained the reasoning for her decision at the meeting.

“Farmington has an established precedent of rotating the mayor and mayor pro tem seats based on seniority of who’s come up through the ranks and who hasn’t yet served in leadership, and while other boards might treat titles as political football, ours has remained relatively drama-free because the Farmington way is based on process, not personalities,” Taylor said. “Supporting this nomination is saying that, on Farmington’s City Council, it’s OK to cut the line as long as you can get enough votes. It transforms a process that’s intended to elevate the most experienced members into a popularity contest where experience doesn’t matter, and in doing so, that puts the interest of individuals above those of the council as a whole, and that’s how you create a dysfunctional board.”

Taylor went on to say that if this is the “new protocol,” it is “worrisome.”

“Setting up showdowns after each new council is seated is a distraction from the work our voters put us here to do,” she said. “I would support Johnna if it was her turn, but I can’t put my vote behind throwing out the Farmington way of doing things — the process that protects us from drama and dysfunction — just because someone wants to be mayor sooner.”

Schneemann commented on Balk’s appointment at the meeting.

“I know you’ve learned a lot in the last couple years,” he said to Balk. “You got a lot of support from the voters. Excited to see what the next two years looks like.”

Last November, LaRussa won a four-year term on Farmington’s City Council.

The position of mayor is a two-year term.

He shared one of the possible scenarios going forward.

“After this two-year term there’ll be another decision about who will be the mayor of Farmington,” LaRussa said. “One of the outcomes, possibly, could be that I just go back to being a council member at that time, because my term on council is longer.”

With each council member’s vote carrying the same weight, including whoever is seated as mayor, LaRussa explained the primary changes that come with his new role.

“The mayor’s responsibility is to preside over the meetings and set the agenda, along with (the) city manager, for the council and its policy agenda,” he said. “So the privileges are basically to chair the council, serve as a ceremonial head of the city, and to collaborate closely with the city manager and the administration on the agenda for the city.”

Bowman is someone who is familiar with that process. She explained her decision to not seek another term on council.

“I had served on City Council for eight years, four as mayor and two as mayor pro tem,” she said. “Before that, I spent eight years on the Planning Commission. … I felt that it was time for me to step away and let some new folks move in, take the helm, and make sure that Farmington was still getting fresh, great leadership. It was a nice time for me to kinda close out that chapter.”

Bowman shared her thoughts about LaRussa’s appointment.

“He served as pro tem for the four years that I was mayor. He and I had a really strong working relationship,” she said. “I admire his diligence. When he has an issue or a topic that he’s passionate about, I think Joe has really good intentions when he’s making decisions. He is thorough, and I think he’s prepared and will serve as mayor really, really well.”

When asked about goals during his term as mayor, LaRussa cited completion of the Farmington Area FiberCity project, which is a collaborative effort with Farmington Hills designed to bring an all-fiber internet network to every home and business in the two cities, as well as having the Maxfield Training Center redevelopment project carried out.

That project involves repurposing a formal school site into new residential housing in Farmington, with 53 townhomes being constructed and sold for occupancy downtown.

“By the end of March, we expect to close on the property,” LaRussa said.

Being appointed mayor has made for a “very exciting” time in LaRussa’s life.

“Mayors have an opportunity to shine in leadership, and of course they are also the first one people call when they have a topic, so it’s certainly not for the faint of heart,” he said. “I’m ready to step up to the challenge and try to be the best leader that Farmington deserves, and also be that sounding board … a person accessible for them to bring their concerns forward as well.”

LaRussa said he has lived in Farmington since 2005. He graduated from Dearborn High before going on to earn a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

His bachelor’s degree was for electrical engineering. His master’s degrees are in automotive systems engineering and engineering management.

LaRussa has had a career in the automotive industry for about 20 years.

He and his wife, Melissa, have two children: Sofia, 16, and Matteo, 12.

LaRussa shared a message for Farmington residents.

“I want them to know I’m at work for them,” he said. “I view public service as just that, it’s service, and my role and my goal (is) to be the best representative that I can be, and to be a champion for the voters, the residents and the businesses that decide to locate here. … I’m also interested in government doing its part to make residents’ lives better, and to make businesses thrive and be a vital part of the community.”