Mayor Mark Meadows talks career, life full of public service
Mark Meadows has been the Mayor of East Lansing twice. He has accumulated a lifetime of experience and passion both before and between his mayoral tenures. Meadows was born and raised in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. He initially didn't plan on going to college after high school, instead working in an auto plant, but after a few months he decided to study further, he said.
Meadows bounced from Macomb Community College to Wayne State University to Western Michigan University, where he graduated in 1971 with a dual major in technical engineering and English. Inspired by his activity in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the Civil Rights movement, he decided to go on to attend the Detroit College of Law, now called the MSU College of Law.
"It's just like this guy being dragged off the plane the other day, think about that happening all the time just because you're black," Meadows said. "Even today, I think ... I have to believe, it's kind of hard to actually realize this was the way it was ... I thought that by being an attorney I'd be able to promote justice, appropriate justice."
Meadows would find himself working as an assistant attorney general in Lansing, a position he occupied for 23 years.
About five years after moving into the area he went through a divorce with his first wife, then moved to East Lansing as a single parent, he said. "I bought a house in East Lansing specifically, because the school district is highly regarded and I wanted the best education for my kids," Meadows said.
Meadows continued his work in the Capitol and served on the East Lansing Commission on the Environment from 1989-1994. Meadow said his first venture onto council, beginning when elected in 1995, came from a desire to serve the community and make a difference.
"There was a problem in the community, part of the community was trying to detach back into Meridian Township," Meadows said. "I thought I could make a difference, so I ran for City Council. I was unsuccessful, but I ran again two years later and was elected, and two years after that I was elected mayor."
Meadows said a sentiment of distrust and the lack of faith in government during the Vietnam War encouraged him and other members of his generation to get involved in fixing it.
"I think that not only myself, but a lot of people in my generation who had been active in the anti-war and civil rights movements who had recognized there was a lot of legitimate complaints about the way the government was being operated," Meadows said.
During Meadows' first tenure, several developments across the city took shape. The Hannah Community Center was revamped, the Family Aquatic Center was built and the City Center development project was completed, though he is reluctant to take credit.
Meadows pursued a further career in politics following his first run on council. Meadows said he didn't run for Mayor in 2005 because he knew he wanted to run for State Legislature and resigned from council in 2006 after winning his primary. Meadows served as the state representative for the 69th District from 2006-2012, when he was term limited. Meadows was re-elected to council in 2015, and then elected mayor by the rest of council, a move he said he didn't expect.
"I'm happy that I did get to be mayor because I do like to set the agenda, but I did not expect that," Meadows said. "I think they were looking for experience. I have experience in the job ... I think there was a general feeling that we had gotten into some problems through inexperience in how to deal with a number of issues, and that the experience would sort of settle things down and get us back on track as a city."
Councilmember Erik Altmann was an MSU professor during Meadows first term as mayor, and now works alongside him on council.
"He was really the person we needed, sort of the right person at the right time," Altmann said. "We needed his expertise and an outspoken, positive attitude, and I think that's all the difference in the world on City Council ... he's been a strong leader but also been flexible, so whoever has a good idea he'll listen to and run with it, and he's been very transparent within the council ... and these things have all been really, really important."
Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier began serving on the current council two years before Meadows, and notes a change in council since his election.
"He's actually a huge improvement for me as a councilperson because Mark is very prepared all the time," Beier said. "He treats this like a full time job, but he also seeks input from everybody for every important decision, which is a huge change from my situation before he got on. It's great to work with him, I like the fact that he treats us all as equals. He has an open mind, I think it works really well."
City development is currently a priority with two major developments in the pipeline, and Meadows said his council is taking a different approach in his second tenure.
"Just because the developer says 'I'm going to do A B and C,' isn't quite good enough for this council, this council negotiates and tries to get a better deal for the citizens of this city, and still promote development and redevelopment," Meadows said. "There's more work than I think the public realizes for all the councilmembers. It is not just, you show up on a Tuesday night meeting and you don't do anything else.There's a lot of work involved to make things happen correctly, and I think this council is dedicated to that."
Now 69 years old, Meadows said he plans to check several mountain hikes off his bucket list, moving onto his next goal after finishing the last. For now, he said, his goal is to keep on keeping on.
"As far as the council goes, I like to think that as we go forward we will continue to go forward as a cohesive body, that we work well together," Meadows said. "When we do disagree, we just disagree on our policy and it doesn't become personal, and I think that's a very positive thing. We'll just keep the positive going and hope the negative falls by the wayside."