At the first City Council meeting in March, Jim Hodges announced during council comments he would not seek reelection in November when his current term expires. After spending 23 years as an elected representative, nine as Mayor, and retiring from Amway in August 2015, Hodges decided it’s time for complete freedom from employment and government service roles. While he plans on doing some traveling (with his wife Chris of course), there’s a good chance serve the community in other ways as opportunities arise.
Nearly 30 Years Contributing to the Community
In January 1989 Jim Hodges took a seat on City Council for the first time when he was asked to fill a vacancy left by Dean Collins who took an out of state job. It was understood he’d seek election in November of that year. After winning two consecutive four-year terms it was 1997 when he lost the third open seat to Mike Blough by 40 votes. This would not be the last time Lowell would see the name Jim Hodges on a ballot for City Council.
In 2003 Hodges decided to run for office again, after some persuasion by friends including then Mayor Jean Shores, following a six year hiatus. “After the break, I missed being involved in the community as a council member. There had been two job changes and the third job found me at Amway. The work schedule was stable thus allowing me to attend meetings in the evenings again.” says Hodges reflecting upon his years of service. Elections in 2003, 2005, and 2007 garnered two-year terms. Then in 2009 and 2013 he received enough votes for four-year terms. The last two wins came while Hodges was the sitting Mayor, a position he held from 2009 through 2015. Lowell has a weak mayor system meaning members of City Council elect a mayor from within its ranks.
So in doing the math Jim Hodges has spent a total of 23 years serving on Lowell’s City Council over the course of 28 years. Lots of math but it all adds up without a discussion similar to that of Miss Scarlet and Wadsworth in the movie Clue. Hodges’ wife Chris retired in February 2015 from King Milling after being an employee for 23 years so he feels it’s a good number of years to serve as a voter representative. “The City has been thru a lot the past five years, we all know that and it needs to be brought up. I truly believe that with this new City Council, new City Manager, new Department Directors and a new direction the City is in good shape.” says. He has seen and been part of numerous changes during his years of service. “I feel good about stepping away. But it is also probably time for the last of the “old folk” to now make room.” Yet his experience will be missed come November.
Councilmember Jeff Phillips included “guidance” as one of the things he has appreciated while working alongside Hodges. He mentions, “His 23 years of service has been so vital to the community and the citizens. He has always gone above and beyond and the Council will truly miss his presence and his knowledge.”
During his time serving Lowell Hodges has served on numerous boards. Research on where he has served was easy for Lowell’s First Look. We went straight to the source and asked. We were provided with this list: Parks and Recreation, Cable Television Board, Lowell Cable Television Endowment Board, Arbor Board, Helen Look Committee, Lowell Area Fire and Emergency Services Board; non City Boards of: Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Lowell Showboat Board, Chaired the ’91 School Millage Campaign, Rotary Club Board / Club President, LowellArts Moving To Main Endorsement Council. As well as various Boards / Committees at the First Congregational Church. Hodges feels during his time contributing to these groups he has had the opportunity see and contribute to growth in the community.
Having served for 23 years it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific event, moment, or accomplishment of which stands out the most. But when asked, Hodges is able to come up with an answer. Those who know him can attest to him always having an answer. He’d be the first to question whether it is the right one but an answer nonetheless. In this case his response is not about what he personally has done but what he has contributed to or witnessed happening in the community.
There is a list of things Hodges remembers as high points in his political career. Infrastructure accomplishments include the installation of the traffic light at Bowes Road/Alden Nash and M-21 and the extension of Valley Vista Drive to Bowes Road. The Riverwalk project occurred while Hodges served on City Council. The old amphitheater was removed and the area from the library to Lafayette Street made more usable and aesthetically appealing.
Seeing women become involved in city government and boards and commissions are events which Hodges considers positives for the community. It was with his encouragement Jean Shores, then a member of the Planning Commission, ran for City Council and was elected as the first woman to serve in this capacity, later becoming Mayor. Since then only Sharon Ellison and Maryalene LaPonsie have been elected to Lowell’s City Council which has been dominated by male influence.
The development of the Lowell Area Historical Museum, Englehardt Library, and Chamber of Commerce also make the list of things which make Hodges proud. The past three decades have seen these three entities contribute to the community through offering opportunities including but not limited to history, programs, festivals, events, education, and networking. He also points out these units are currently lead by women.
Finally, Hodges notes “the efforts of City Staff to maintain and grow our departments under difficult financial times” as something he respects. He refers to staff as “behind the scenes heroes” for residents and visitors keeping city parks looking nice throughout the year, keeping the city safe, encouraging visitors, looking for new businesses, and more while working with a limited budget.
Much has happened in Lowell and the life of Jim Hodges over the last three decades. As Councilmember Greg Canfield puts it, “Sometimes you don’t recognize how great someone is until someone tries to replace [him].”
Involvement in city government comes with challenges. “Working with a diverse group of people; Council Members, citizens and other community members to do the right thing and build relationships.” cites Hodges. But he continues offering a solution or way to approach a demanding issue, individual, or group. “Patience and kindness is always the better card to play.” Being in a leadership role usually means taking responsibility, win or lose, for a decision. Often this responsibility means showing respect while voicing an opinion as well as listening to differing points of view.
Wishing for a mulligan also comes with the territory of government leadership. Hodges shared one regret saying, “I voted YES to not allow the LCTV Endowment Board to make any recommendations that year. I wish I could have that vote to do over, it should have been NO.” Yet he still found a message in the situation and admits he made a wrong decision. He continues, “The regret and lesson here is we need to allow our Boards and Commissions to do their work as designated by our Policy and Procedures Plan. And it caused mistrust with our township neighbors about how the City conducts its business. I made a mistake on that vote.” Taking ownership of a decision and explaining it goes a long way. It takes a successful leader to admit a mistake even if the decision cannot be changed.
Hodges also notes union negotiations and issues with the biodigester “could have gone better”. Being a member of City Council has a different look facing members of the community. “Behind the scenes there were many difficult conversations, which I will not elaborate on, dealing with policy, people and political position. Doing what is best is not always easy.” states Hodges. Individual agenda should be set aside when doing what is best for the community in which you serve. It’s not always a simple task. It’s not always easy to know whether a thought process leading to a vote is right or wrong. Regardless, learning from the good and the bad promotes individual and community growth.
It was only recently Hodges experienced his hardest time serving on City Council stating, “[…] the most difficult challenge over these 23 years was the loss of Jim Hall, the defeat of Sharon Ellison and the dismissal of Mark Howe – all within a four month period. It kinda sucked the enjoyment of serving our community right out of me.” he notes. Being an elected government official is a privilege and an important job. “Time and the hiring of Mike Burns has helped me heal as well as a retreat the Council Members had in January to rebuild the Council as team members.”
Reflections and Advice
With his departure, Hodges will leave City Council in the hands of those without much government service longevity and perhaps first time appointees depending on the results of the November election. But this should not discourage anyone from running who is willing to put forth the effort to serve. Hodges advises those who remain on City Council as well as those thinking about running for a seat, “Do your homework and seek out answers. Be prepared to give up 8 to 12 hours of your time each week. Sometimes you will need to NOT speak and forever hold your peace – yes, in this case it does mean: Can you keep a secret?” The role of serving as an elected official comes with great responsibility. There will be disagreements, conflicts, and even poor choices. It’s not an easy task but can be rewarding with good leadership skills.
Hodges shined when serving as Mayor enjoying ribbon cuttings, attending Michigan Municipal League conventions, being in parades, numerous speaking engagements, conversations with members of the community (many of which happened in aisles at Meijer), and doing what he felt would make the community a better place then, now, and in the future. “His experience, guidance and refreshing sense of humor will be missed. Jim has been a complete gentleman through some very tough times. He has helped me behind the scenes and his gentle hand of guidance will be missed.” says Councilmember Alan Teelander.
Hodges says “never say never” when asked if he will return for a run at City Council in the future but does not anticipate another run for city government. He sees a ride off into the sunset as a better option. Or at least around the country visiting friends. Then on to “The Home” at some point in the future referring to Schneider Manor where he and his wife have been on a waiting list for years.
The announcement of his retirement was mentioned in March in order to give Lowell residents time to consider running in the upcoming election. There will be three open seats on the November ballot but signed petitions are due at City Hall by 4pm on April 25 for those seeking election. Should more than six people seek the open positions a primary will be held in August to narrow the field back to six members. On November 7, 2017 registered voters will select two people to a four-year term and one for a two-year term.
For those looking to serve the City of Lowell in the role of a council representative, petitions can be obtained at City Hall. A total of 25 signatures from registered voters within city limits are required to have your name placed on the ballot. Seats currently filled by Mayor Mike DeVore and Councilmember Greg Canfield will be available in the November election. DeVore had this to say about working with Jim Hodges, “He’s made us all better as Council Members and the Lowell community owes him an immeasurable debt for his time and passion. He’s set the bar very high for all of the sitting and future Council Members and especially myself and future Mayors.” There is still time for good-byes as Hodges has seven more months in his current role. Both DeVore and Canfield plan on running for reelection.
Jim Hodges knows a lot about Lowell’s history. He has also been a contributor to that history during the last 30 years serving the community. There’s a good chance he’ll continue to make a name for himself in Lowell for decades to come. For the extended version of the answers provided to Lowell’s First Look via email we’ve created a document for interested readers to view. While he’s not seeking a seat on City Council in the fall, he’s not stepping down as a resident of Lowell. “I will be available to serve on a couple of Boards and Commissions as the Mayor and Council might find appropriate. And I am available for Q & A’s from anyone.” he concludes. Hodges will remain in office until the Monday prior to the November election at which time he will likely move to adjourn his last City Council meeting.