Coffee Conversation with Commissioner Mike Fournier

'Keep in mind that 2013 is an election year.'

“Keep in mind that 2013 is an election year.”

Mike found occasion to make that point three times during our hour-long conversation.

Mike’s closing comment was, “Everyone brings value to The Table. The city benefits when that value is used constructively.”

Talking much faster than he does at The Table, he offered many observations and expressed concerns, both spontaneously and in answer to questions. When I commented about his name being unfamiliar when his candidacy was announced, he mentioned that his civic involvement had begun with service on the Library Board and years on Parks and Rec.

“Long before I decided to run, I had a passionate interest in city issues, and I made it a point to talk with residents, department heads, departmental workers, commissioners.”

Putting that passion to work was his driving intention, using what he had learned from all those relationships with people to “do cool things and use innovative ways to move matters along.” He understands the role of the city commission. “We should set goals, not micromanage.” Even so, he works with others to bounce ideas off the table and within city hall to begin implementing the goals set at this year’s all-day planning session. “Every minute we aren’t addressing those goals is a wasted minute.”

Yet he is uneasy with “dialogue for the sake of dialogue,” terming it “posturing.” We chuckled together when I recounted the old saw, “Everything has been said . . . but not everyone has said it.”

I turned the conversation to his style at The Table by reporting that he has been described as “a quieter and softer Terry Drinkwine,” the former commissioner who was often praised and teased for thinking out loud as he worked toward a decision, which he then forcefully announced. Mike’s reply: “Okay, I occasionally pull a 180, but I’m always speaking to my values.”

About values, he offered, “If you believe you are right, if you have thought it through, you can take the high road and not attack those who disagree with you. Time is my ally.”  Mike sees the legislative process as “looking for the good.” It means “finding, not having the right solution.” That led to an acknowledgement by both of us that public officials – and webmasters -- are subject to having their confidence considered arrogance. And that led me to ask Mike if he sometimes asks questions to which he knows the answer, his intention being for the public to hear the reply.  He does. And he said that in certain conditions, asking questions permits other to “save face.” Somewhere in there my notes show “HRO,” which means that he had mentioned the proposed Human Rights Ordinance as an example.

Mike acknowledges that institutional tension exists between any commission and its Administration, even as elected and appointed officials come and go, but he maintains that in Royal Oak that tension does not get in the way of getting things done. The city charter specifies that commissioners must go through the city manager before requesting any substantial work from department heads; Mike finds that on routine issues, the spirit of meeting that specification comes in the form of sending an email to both Don and the appropriate department head, “for example Tod on parks stuff since I sit on that committee.”

“We commissioners have to understand our role” was a point Mike made several times in several ways. He and I spent some minutes discussing the concern of some citizens with elected officials getting together socially away from The Table. “After a late meeting, I don’t always participate, but sure, after a meeting we may gather with each other and a resident or two for a beer.” Most of the chatter is social, rather than political or even civic, he said. “Of course when we encounter each other at non-political gatherings, we may briefly exchange thoughts on some matter which will be on a coming agenda.”

Mike added, “In regards to the social gatherings I don't want to mislead anyone by suggesting that we never discuss city issues, we do. But not topics that should be reserved for the table or public...and again we are talking about anything and everything else.” 

I suggested that thoughtful residents would not want it to be otherwise.

I’ve mentioned that Mike several times found occasion to remind me that this year is an election year. Why the emphasis? “We have plenty of city work to do. I would hope that none of my colleagues attempts to use The Table as a political platform.”

I guessed that, especially in weeks when he must attend a CITCOM meeting and one or more committee/board meetings he must spend 20 hours a week on city business. He paused, gave it a thought, and said, “That seems about right.”

Mike sees his life’s responsibilities as divided into husband/father, professional, and elected official. He described emailing during breakfast and telephoning during his commute as necessary to fulfilling those responsibilities. Unlike some officials who give the impression that they are frequently swamped with emails from residents, Mike – while acknowledging that once in a while there’s a surge -- said a typical week brings perhaps a dozen emails from residents, “completely doable.”

To repeat: Mike’s closing comment was, “Everyone brings value to The Table. The city benefits when that value is used constructively.”

Asked to provide personal and professional background to accompany his picture, Mike replied:

"Would much rather discuss ideas, not me :-)  Here is the best a good ol' catholic boy could write about himself......

"Mike is married to his wife and high school sweetheart Niki.  Together, they have two daughters and a son due in April.  Mike was elected to the Royal Oak City Commission in November 2011.  Prior, he served as a trustee on the Royal Oak Public Library and a member of the Royal Oak Parks and Recreation board.  He has always had an interest in civic matters, but his enthusiasm accelerated once he became a father.

"Two things happen when you become a father: first, you can now backup and park a trailer and second, you understand your children's future will not happen by accident.

"Professionally, Mike has held various roles related to operations, finance and sales.  He believes his diverse background affords him perspective and the ability to help solve tough problems. Mike holds a B.A. from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame."

NOTE: This conversation took place before the CITCOM meeting during which the Human Rights Ordnance was put on CITCOM's agenda. 

Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.


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