Political fellowship experience to strengthen local leadership

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published March 27, 2013


SOUTHFIELD — Thinking back, Southfield City Councilman Jeremy Moss can’t remember the first time he knew politics was a passion for him.

“I remember my family vacation the summer between kindergarten and first grade. We went to (Washington), D.C., and at the age of 5, I was already interested in being president,” Moss, 26, said. “I can’t even pinpoint a time I wasn’t interested in politics. But now that I’m of an age to contribute in a very tangible way, I am.”

Moss, elected as the city’s youngest councilman in 2011, is among the new group of fellows in the Michigan Political Leadership Program, hosted by Michigan State University.

The program is touted as one of the most prestigious leadership training groups in the country and selects 24 fellows each year: 12 men, 12 women, 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

During the 10-month program, MPLP fellows tour Michigan landmarks, learn from some of the state’s experienced political leaders and take part in hands-on activities, like taping TV ads to facing tough editorial boards.

“MPLP has reached new landmarks,” Co-director Anne Mervenne said in a statement. “We are on our way to 600 alumni trained and ready to serve.”

Since the program began in 1992, Southfield leaders have been among those accepted into the program. Among the first graduates were Southfield Deputy City Administrator Fred Zorn and State Rep. Rudy Hobbs. Southfield City Clerk Nancy Banks is also a graduate, and most recently, Southfield Schools Board of Education President Darryle Buchanan graduated from the 2012 program.

“It was a really great experience, in terms of being able to interact with leaders from across the state, and future political leaders, I’m sure,” Buchanan said. “It’s good to have the perspective of folks who sit on both sides of the aisle because the bottom line is that we all have the same objective, and it’s really how we get there together, how to move Michigan forward.”

Buchanan said that some of the skill sets being utilized by elected officials in Southfield have come from the program and its lessons.

“We’ve had several notable graduates from MPLP. As a community, we have benefited from the program, though many people may not know that.”

The program’s curriculum tackles topics from being an effective leader, to innovative development techniques, to urban economics and local activism. Michigan history and relevant current topics, like immigration and Detroit’s newly appointed emergency financial manager, are also explored. 

Sessions are held each weekend in various parts of the state, mixing lectures with group sessions and interactive learning experiences, like role playing.

For both Moss and Buchanan, one of the most anticipated parts of the program is the trip to Rosscommon — a county that has a total of 20,000 residents, compared to the more than 65,000 in just Southfield’s boarders.

“One of the most eye-opening things I saw was going to Rosscommon and looking at the issues they deal with, like how do you provide services like education, emergency services and health care to such a spread-out population,” Buchanan said.

Moss hopes experiences like exposure to such a different demographic and municipal makeup will sharpen his perspective and give him different tools to use as a politician.

“We have equal partnerships in trying to solve Michigan’s problems, and a wide-range view of the entire state is needed. It’s important that, if I want to take my level of public service to representing a greater number of people in Michigan in my future, that I understand the diversity of the state and be able to represent all of Michigan.” he said. “This program isn’t about being a bomb thrower. It’s about being a peace maker and finding bipartisan solutions.”

For now, Moss, a lifelong resident of Southfield, said his focus is on bringing back results to his constituents.

“When I was elected to City Council, I didn’t come with a lengthy résumé. But, I came in first place in that election because voters wanted a fresh pair of eyes. So, I’ve taken my first year and a half in office to more or less ask questions, and I know my job is to also provide solutions to the problems here in Southfield,” he said. “This program will provide training for me to address the policy issues here in the city and give me tangible takeaways in my career as a public servant.”

While just a few weeks into the program, Moss shared that the most powerful part thus far has been the “spirited discussions” with his peers on current and buzz-worthy topics — oftentimes outside of the classroom.

Buchanan agreed that the diverse perspectives that MPLP alumni are able to bring back to the cities they serve are among the most notable aspects of the fellowship.

MPLP alumni reports indicate that 45 percent of MPLP alumni are serving or have served in an appointed or elected capacity, according to the website.

Figures show that 92 individuals have been elected to city, village and township offices; 52 to county office; five have served on a college or university board; 39 have served on local school boards; 28 were elected or appointed to offices in state government; 31 have served their local political party in leadership positions; and two were elected chair of a Michigan Tribal Government. Notably, 14 MPLP graduates are now serving as members of the Michigan House of Representatives, too.