East Lansing City Councilmember has spent much of her life serving both the environment and the federal government. Now, she brings her expertise from the government’s highest level to the local branches.
Draheim said her passion for the environment began while watching southern California change as she grew up.
“Where I grew up ... there were orange groves, there were trees and a lot of that was just getting taken over,” Draheim said. “My passion for the environment really came out of sort of the land use side of that, ‘How are we protecting our natural resources? How are we developing sustainably?’”
Draheim became a second generation Spartan and studied in the James Madison College after hearing constant praise from her two alumni parents. She met her husband, Andy Draheim, while they both worked at The State News, her as a receptionist and him as a writer and editor, Draheim said.
She received a masters degree in public affairs in environmental policy from Indiana University Bloomington, before beginning a roughly 10-year career in federal government at the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and other organizations.
“One of my big projects when I worked for the EPA in San Francisco was actually looking at the environmental impacts of a, newly-constructed at the time, border fence, which is ironic given today’s discussions,” Draheim said.
Draheim and her family moved back to East Lansing in 2004 after she and her husband realized they couldn’t afford to stay in San Francisco while raising their three children, Draheim said.
“We had a lot of family and friends out here in Michigan, and we always loved East Lansing as students here,” Draheim said. “When we decided to move back to Michigan, we knew we wanted to be in East Lansing, wanted to be in a college town and all of the culture and the walkability that came with it.”
Draheim’s path to council might have been more straightforward than others with years of experience as a public servant under her belt. Draheim said she was familiarized with city government while working on East Lansing’s for about seven years.
“As a resident, I was participating in a lot of the planning that was going on at the time,” Draheim said. “I was going to community engagement meetings very interested, just feeling like it was time to step up and do my part from the inside, I guess, rather than from the outside in.”
Councilmember Erik Altmann, elected November 2015 at the same time as Draheim and Mayor Mark Meadows, said Draheim is dedicated to the community and to the city.
“She works hard and she has policy expertise, which she brings to bear on our discussions, and she always has an eye out for compromise which has helped the council gel in the last year and a half,” Altmann said. “We’ve worked on a number of issues, and I think we have similar views on specific issues like transportation and environmental policy, and she knows more about this stuff from her day job than I do from mine. ... That’s been very helpful to leverage as we try to find out what direction we want to go in.”
Councilmember Susan Woods said Draheim has been a great addition to council.
“She’s smart and affable and gets along with everyone on the city council, so it makes it for being a very cohesive body, which it hasn’t been that way in the past,” Woods said.
Draheim has always been on the “doer” side of the government, and being a policymaker is different, she said. Now at the top of a local government rather than implementing policy at a higher level of the system, Draheim said her experience with implementation has given her a different perspective on policymaking.
“I’m a big believer in the council form of government, where we make policy and we have our talented staff implement that policy, but it’s different as somebody who’s naturally, has played that role before,” Draheim said. “I always tell George and staff, ‘Tell me when I’m stepping over that line. If I’m trying to be a doer, just push me pack into policymaker.’”
Draheim said learning to meet the needs of the wide variety of East Lansing’s constituents has been both fun and challenging.
“There are, I think, enormous opportunities for this city going forward, and I think the challenging thing for me and everybody on council is balancing, ‘How do you grow and develop and continue to meet the needs of your residents when that set of interests is really wide, everything from students to retirees, modest income to much more wealthy?’” Draheim said. “We have quite a span of people we’re trying to serve, so that’s both fun and challenging at the same time.”
Draheim said she sees the environment as part of everything people do in a way, which has contributed to her view on city development as well.
“I think a lot of people pick to live here because they like the character of our neighborhoods, and they like being able to hop on the northern tier trail and be out in nature a little bit, they like being able to go out on MSU’s campus and have so much greenery. So, to me that environmental ethic is sort a lot of what we do,” Draheim said. “I think cities arein a unique role to really be leaders on environmental things.”
Development is one of the main issues Draheim wants to tackle, making sure upcoming downtown development projects are done right and in a way that can be transformational for East Lansing, she said.
“I’m an urbanist and I really believe in density,” Draheim said. “The direction the demographic trends are going is that downtown, dense, walkable development is good for the environment, it’s good for the human soul, it’s good for city governance and efficiency. I think East Lansing’s downtown has enormous opportunity ... I look at downtown as a place where we can really have thriving businesses, entertainment, where it’s a great place to mashup all parts of our community, students interacting with permanent residents and all ages mixing.”
When she’s not serving on council, Draheim works as director of Policy Development at the . Draheim said she’ll be working with policy for a long time to come, but said she hopes to one day retire into a condo located downtown East Lansing.
“There’s nothing I love more than being out on a summer night downtown, out on the patio at HopCat or some place like that and having families with little kids running around, and retirees and students and people out and about and walking around,” Draheim said. “I love that and I want to see much more of that.”