Retired Grosse Pointe Woods administrator led city through renovations and pandemic

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 26, 2022

 From left, Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Arthur Bryant presents retiring City Administrator Bruce Smith with a proclamation in his honor Dec. 17 at the Woods Community Center.

From left, Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Arthur Bryant presents retiring City Administrator Bruce Smith with a proclamation in his honor Dec. 17 at the Woods Community Center.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE WOODS — After almost 40 years in law enforcement, Bruce Smith could have easily retired.

Instead, he took on an entirely different challenge, becoming the city administrator of Grosse Pointe Woods circa 2017. Woods officials are glad he did.

Smith, 66, of Washington Township, retired in late 2021, but not before preparing Woods Director of Public Services Frank Schulte to become the new city administrator. In addition, longtime Woods Executive Assistant to the City Administrator Sue Como was promoted in late 2021 to assistant city administrator, all part of Smith’s efforts to make sure the Woods would be left in capable hands.

“Bruce has just been a wonderful, wonderful city administrator,” Mayor Arthur Bryant said. “He has brought us through some interesting times, and he’s managed to get us through some projects under his tutelage.” 

Smith was initially hired to be the Woods’ public safety director in February 2015, but when then City Administrator Alfred “Skip” Fincham announced plans to retire at the end of that year, the City Council selected Smith from among dozens of applicants for the position. He took over as city administrator roughly 1.5 years later.

“For me, it was a great learning experience — every day, something new,” Smith said of running the city.

Smith said he worked for police departments in Romulus and Detroit for about 4.5 years in total before joining the Oak Park Public Safety Department, where he spent 25 years, eventually working his way up to become the director. He then spent about 8.5 years as the police chief in Chesterfield Township, before coming to the Woods.

“We will really miss Bruce and all of the experience he brings to the job,” Bryant said.

Smith’s tenure has been a busy one that included leading the Woods through COVID-19 and severe basement sewage backups in 2021. There were also a lot of improvements.

“Frank and I — and with Sue’s help — we’ve done a lot of renovations,” Smith said.

Those renovations included replacing City Hall’s 50-year-old roof, creating a new public safety dispatching center and state-of-the-art lockup for arrestees, building a new bridge at Lake Front Park, and installing a new, more powerful generator at City Hall to use during power outages — which, as residents know, are common in the Woods.

“Three or four times a year, we’d have to shut down City Hall” because of an outage, Smith said.

He said the new generator is designed to meet modern power needs at City Hall so the city can remain operational.

Other projects include the installation of new parking meters with fog-free UV lenses; refurbishment of the Department of Public Works’ vehicle fleet; the purchase last spring of a new firetruck with a ladder, a $1.1 million investment; renovation of the docks and marina at Lake Front Park during the years of high water levels; new bike racks on Mack Avenue; and kayak racks and a kayak launch at the park.

“Those are becoming more and more popular,” Como said of the kayaks.

One major project was renovation and redesign of City Hall, which made it more user friendly for staff and visitors alike, including a larger conference room for the council’s Committee of the Whole and other meetings, and giving the Building Department more space to conduct its operations. Bryant said the redesign came after City Hall was flooded by an improper pipe installation during renovations, after which officials “took a pause” before undertaking repairs.

Bryant said they recognized that the “building setup was very old. Let’s design it for modern conditions for the next 50 years.”

Smith is always quick to point out that none of his accomplishments would have been possible without the help of city employees and the council.

“The workforce here is just incredible,” Smith said. “Our employees are just outstanding. … And the City Council has been so supportive.”

Schulte called Smith “a fantastic mentor” and “great friend.”

On Dec. 17, officials from the Woods were among those celebrating Smith’s career at the Woods Community Center. Bryant presented Smith with a proclamation as Smith’s family and friends — including Smith’s wife of 44 years, Sharon — looked on. Several officials spoke, including Woods Public Safety Director John Kosanke.

“The members of our department look up to you as a role model,” Kosanke told Smith. “You have represented (the city) well. … You will always be considered part of our family.”

Fincham called hiring Smith “the best decision I ever made.”

Smith thanked his family and friends, as well as Fincham, the council, residents and city staffers like Como and Schulte.

“Honestly, this is the greatest group of people I’ve had the honor of working with,” Smith said Dec. 17. “The past 4 1/2 years have been just about perfect for me.”

Like Bryant, Mayor Pro Tem Vicki Granger has served on the council for many years and worked with several other city administrators. She said Smith had a great work ethic and demeanor.

“Bruce has been a great administrator,” Granger said. “We will miss him very much.”

His love for the city ran so deep that Granger said Smith worked longer than he had initially planned so that he would be able to train his successor.

“I know all of us are grateful,” Smith made sure a succession plan was in place before he retired, Granger said.

Smith said he’s retiring now because he and his wife want to do more traveling and spend more time with their grandchildren, who are ages 2 to 12.

“I want to retire while I’m still healthy and can enjoy stuff,” Smith said. “It’s really bittersweet because I enjoy being here.”

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