OU features presentation on local governments and environmental cleanup

Jessica Orlando, Staff Reporter

Collaboration between local governments and federal agencies is crucial when it comes to dealing with disaster relief and environmental catastrophes. Oakland University’s MPA program hosted a webinar on Tuesday, Mar. 30 to talk about the inner workings of city government when it comes to environmental cleanups.

The webinar featured special guest Melissa Marsh who has worked in city government for over 23 years. Many of those years consisted of her working in Madison Heights as Deputy City Manager, Human Resources Director and Finance Director. 

Currently, Marsh serves as the City Manager of Madison Heights and has created a successful charter millage proposal stabilizing the city’s finances. She serves on the Board of Directors and the Professional Development Committee for the Michigan Municipal Executive Association

Marsh showcased her work as a City Manager as well as local government as a whole through the management of the environmental disaster known as the “green ooze” on I-696. 

“We dealt with this by using collaboration because Madison Heights as a city and most cities in Michigan do not have the expertise or the skills or the finances to deal with something like this,” Marsh said. 

The toxic waste was coming from a contaminated industrial electroplating site that is not far from I-696 and due to its inactivity as well as improper storage of chemicals, waste made its way to the interstate. 

“We immediately had to call upon all of our partners in the Michigan EAGLE and the EPA as well as the state police,” Marsh said. “We really banded together to address this public threat.”

Notably, Marsh mentioned that the connections she had made between local government and agencies had allowed a smooth operation that was efficient. 

“Because of our relationships with the people at the EPA and EAGLE, they constantly kept us in the loop on what was going on and they talked to us before the news media which is critical,” Marsh said. 

Marsh was also able to testify in front of the Michigan House Committee on behalf of the City of Madison Heights as a result of her relationship with the Michigan legislature. 

“This opportunity paved the way for Madison Heights to get a grant, 600,000 dollars, to pay for the demolition of this site,” Marsh said. “These are funds the city would not have otherwise.”

Building relationships with other key members of local governments as well as federal agencies is critical when it comes to being prepared for disaster. Marsh explained that being thankful and showing gratitude is also a great way to build relationships that can further collaborative efforts when an emergency comes up unexpectedly.

“If you don’t take the media’s calls when they are trying to get a story, they are not going to take your calls when you are trying to get information out so it’s definitely a two way street,” Marsh said. “It didn’t take anything for me to send her a thank you note and some flowers. Don’t underestimate what it is to just say thank you, especially to these elected officials because they like to know they are helping and making a difference.”