Who we are
The Michigan Townships Association was formed in 1953 as a unified voice representing Michigan’s township governments. Nearly seven decades later, we are the largest community of local government officials in the state, and one of the largest in the nation. More than 99% of Michigan townships are Association members, signifying their commitment to the continuation of strong, vibrant local government.
Among our member services are advocacy, representing township government before state and federal lawmakers and decision-makers, advocating for legislation and policies that benefit townships and against those harmful to local democracy; information, answering member questions on statutory requirements and providing advice and information on issues they face; and education, offering training and resources to build knowledge and skills related to the core competencies required of a township official.
We are not a governmental or regulatory entity, and do not provide oversight over Michigan township administration or governance. We are a voluntary membership, 501(c)4 not-for-profit corporation serving the government closest to the people.
The Michigan Townships Association advances local democracy by fostering township leadership and public policy essential for a strong and vibrant Michigan.
- Build on past traditions and uphold values unique to the township way of life
- Promote the integrity of township government through knowledgeable, ethical, trustworthy, and accountable elected and appointed officials who are dedicated to democratic principles and sound fiscal management
- Embrace integrity as the cornerstone upon which the public’s trust is built
- Recognize and celebrate the unique virtues of township government
- Promote an involved citizenry that appreciates and supports townships, and respects those who serve as public officials
- Encourage local leaders to treat citizens with respect, dignity and fairness
- Enhance access to information and materials to ensure that elected and appointed local officials acquire and apply the necessary knowledge to contribute positively to their townships and society
- Facilitate productive working relationships with the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government and other organizations with whom our Association interacts
- Maintain high standards in the programs and services made available through the Association, including endorsed products and third-party relationships
- Encourage officials and citizens to work together for positive change in townships
- Create a future for townships to benefit those generations that will follow
More About MTA
We are governed by a 29-member Board of Directors, comprised of elected township officials from around the state, who guide the Association and its overall goals and efforts. Executive Director Neil Sheridan leads a dedicated staff in providing programs and services to more than 6,500 local leaders.
Why Do Townships Need MTA?
A United Voice on Legislative Issues
The notion that government lobbies government may seem to some as an odd notion, but the reality of lawmaking at all levels of government requires somebody to speak on behalf of various governmental entities when a legislative body is considering new laws that impact on other governments. State governments have lobbyists in Washington D.C, and virtually all Michigan governmental entities and public offices retain lobbyists or organizations like MTA to speak on their behalf when the state legislature or state agencies are considering actions that will affect these governmental entities or public officials.
MTA staff members are experts on both the legislative process and the workings of township government. Staff members whose primary responsibilities include legislative advocacy review all legislation when it is introduced to identify the impacts on township government. If the bill is likely to be seriously considered by the legislature, MTA informs lawmakers how the bill will impact on townships. If the bill would harm the ability of townships to respond appropriately to local needs, MTA makes sure that lawmakers are aware of such consequences, which could be unintentional to the bill’s main purpose. MTA also notifies members of the bill’s potential impacts and suggests appropriate actions members can take to ensure that helpful legislation is adopted, and adverse legislation is either corrected or dropped from further consideration. Sometimes other interest groups advocate for a legislation contrary to the best interests of townships, and MTA works with other groups to try to reach compromises when possible.
Of course it is not possible for over 6,500 township officials to agree on the appropriate position MTA should take on over 4,000 bills that are introduced in a legislative session. The positions that MTA takes on legislation is guided by a Legislative Policy Platform that is adopted by members attending the Association’s Annual Meeting held in conjunction with the MTA Annual Educational Conference. The policy platform provides broad policy direction on legislation related to taxation, land use, intergovernmental relations, transportation and elections. Broadly speaking, MTA advocates for legislation that allows local government to make decisions on issues that most affect local communities. MTA believes that the best public policy is made at a level closest to the people. The platform also includes direction on specific legislative issues that are likely to see legislative action. The voting process by which the policy platform is adopted enables MTA to take a position when members are divided between alternative perspectives.
To augment our legislative effectiveness, MTA operates a political action committee (PAC). The PAC is governed by township officials who are also on the MTA board of directors. The PAC contributes funds to state House and Senate candidates whose election would be beneficial to MTA’s policy objectives. All PAC funds originate from individuals, not from townships or any other government sources.
In addition to advocacy on legislative matters, MTA’s legal defense fund assists in court cases that have broad impact on townships. Assistance is generally in the form of amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs that present to court the broader implications on township government of a decision, which may be cited by other courts as a precedent for future decisions on related court cases.
MTA also is a member of the National Association of Towns and Townships for representation on federal issues of interest to member townships.
We Answer Our Members’ Questions
There are hundreds of state and federal statutes with township officials must comply in carrying out their day-to-day duties. While township officials become familiar with statutory requirements that they confront on a regular basis, it is very common for township officials to encounter unusual or infrequent situations with which one more laws, court decisions or attorney general opinions limit or direct a particular course of action. The powers, duties, obligations and responsibilities of government at all levels are far more legally complicated than running a private business or day-to-day life. It is impossible for township officials to know all of the laws with which they must comply. MTA answers routine questions that do not require a legal opinion, as MTA is not a law firm and does not have an attorney-client relationship with its members. The MTA staff annually responds to over 7,000 telephone calls, e-mails and letters.
We also are contacted by individuals who are not member township officials, but who nonetheless want MTA to answer their township government questions as well. We do not directly respond to questions from persons who are not MTA members, and we regret that persons who are not members may become upset when we decline to provide them with the answers they seek. We limit access to our Member Information Team for a number of reasons, primarily being that we are pretty close to capacity in our ability to timely respond to our members. We also want to avoid the situation of a person who is not a member citing MTA as the source of information that is disseminated out of context, or acting on information that was predicated on incomplete or inaccurate representation of the situation. MTA is not an oversight body, and has no regulatory authority over the actions of township officials.
We also anticipate that persons who are not MTA members could be disappointed that a portion of the MTA website is only accessible with a member password. Frankly, it would be administratively easier for us not to password-protect some of the MTA content. For years, our entire website was open to the public, but in recent years more townships have suggested to us that they could get the information benefits they need from MTA on an open website, without having to be a member and without financially supporting the organization. This is what economists call being a “free rider”—akin to a public bus charging the first rider for the full cost of the bus ride, but letting everyone else ride free because the additional cost to the bus is zero. Obviously, a company can’t stay in business if people use a service and do not pay for it. Consequently, password protection the content valuable to township officials is a business decision to encourage full membership, rather than a strategy to keep information from the public. We regret any resulting hard feelings.
MTA is a Township Official’s Best Place to Learn
Public service as a township official requires knowledge that most people do not have prior to being elected to office. Further, the demands on township officials continuously evolve as the state and its localities anticipate and respond to an ever-changing economic, social, demographic and political environment. New and amended state laws change the processes and procedures that township supervisors, clerks and treasurers administer.
MTA offers over 100 workshops each year on topics ranging from assessing to zoning. The MTA Annual Educational Conference also offers over 50 workshops on specialized topics, as well as plenary sessions on important trends and issues and offers suggested solutions to complex challenges.
Members also glean current information from MTA’s flagship publication, Township Focus; from this website; our monthly legislative report Township Voice; a regular electronic newsletter Township Insights, and other notices and bulletins on time-sensitive state and federal issues.
MTA has over six decades of strengthening township government in Michigan!
MTA administers a scholarship fund established in memory of our Association’s second executive director, Robert R. Robinson. The Robert R. Robinson Memorial Scholarship aims to help students in Michigan who are preparing for a career in public administration.
MTA created the “Township of Excellence” program to recognize strong, vibrant communities governed by township boards that adhere to best practices to deliver quality programs and services, and accomplish community-driven goals.
From assessing to zoning, we offer something for every size township. In addition to statutory duties, you’ll find our classes tackle concepts, trends, and current issues impacting township government. From the basic “nuts and bolts” duties of township officials to advanced policy issues that members face. Whether you’re looking for an evening program or a multi-day event, MTA has a workshop for you!