February 13, 2013 - After almost thirty years of service to Independence Township, Joan McCrary feels as strongly as ever citizen involvement in local government is very important.
"People don't realize, when they elect their public officials, they are in charge of your daily life. It's not Lansing. It's not Washington. It's here," she said. McCrary's perspective that residents have a significant role to play in their communities fueled her desire to join public service.
McCrary relocated to Independence from Warren in 1972, and as more people and businesses moved in too, she decided to make her voice heard. "Things were growing, and I just felt like we should be involved," she said. "If you don't pay attention, things can change."
McCrary's first experience with Independence Township governance was serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals in 1984. "I was thrilled to be appointed to something," she said. It wasn't the last time McCrary would be picked for public service in Independence.
She was appointed Clerk in 1989 and was elected for the role for fifteen years until 2004. McCrary was the first female Clerk to serve on the Board of Trustees.
After retiring from her position as Clerk, McCrary couldn't resist serving on the Planning Commission, and she did so until December 13, 2012 when she attended her last meeting as a commissioner.
During her many years of service, McCrary witnessed numerous changes in the township, but she feels the development followed the Master Plan. "I've always worked toward a community with controlled growth," said McCrary.
Large developers like hospitals and big box stores presented the most challenges. For example, McCrary remembered when Wal-Mart wanted to open a store in Independence. Despite Wal-Mart's promises to improve the roads and donate to the schools, the public hearing showed most locals did not want the development.
"We had to hold the meeting at the High School Auditorium," McCrary recalled. "I doubt if there were even three people who spoke in favor of Wal-Mart. It was hours of people coming to the microphone saying no."
Although the enormous opposition to the big box store swayed the township's planners, McCrary emphasized leaders must sometimes remain steadfast in their opinions.
"I always felt that I had a firm conviction, and I didn't sway from it no matter how many people were in the audience," she said. "We have 30,000 people here; we can't change everything because thirty or forty people show up to a township meeting."
McCrary felt so strongly that leaders should avoid biased influences she wouldn't accept donations during election season. "For all my campaigns, I never took money from people. I paid for them myself, so I didn't have to feel obligated when somebody came before me," she explained.
At the same time, McCrary points out that the most significant lesson she learned was to listen, which is why she maintained an open door policy as Clerk. "We're working for the people, and we need to hear what the problems are. Sometimes we could help, sometimes we couldn't, but at least we were there to listen," she said.
Of all the positions McCrary held, being Clerk was her favorite. While her long tenure is marked with many accomplishments, she is very proud of the part she played in developing the township's historical preservation plan.
"For about three years, I went to the township board and asked for funding in each years budget" for the project, she said. In 1994 and 1995, McCrary worked with Township Planner Dick Carlisle and another firm to "catalog all the historical structures in this township, and now if a developer or even a person wants to tear down a 1800s house, it's all on the register in the township and it's controlled," she said.
Besides the historical preservation project, another point of pride for McCrary is earning Michigan's Clerk of the Year award in 1994. "It was just quite an honor," she said with a smile.
In addition, the Michigan Townships Association recognized her for developing a "Lunch and Learn" program. As a part of McCrary's "Lunch and Learn" initiative, township employees could attend luncheons with speakers who shared their expertise. In exchange for giving up one lunch a month for a year, employees would earn a half a day off of work.
McCrarq has many fond memories, but did admit one regret. "I do have regrets that during my last term, [Supervisor Dale Stuart] and I did not get along very well," she divulged. "I wish we could have ironed out our differences."
Despite the ups and downs of public service, McCrary would have done it all again. In fact, "I wish I had started earlier," she said.
For those considering running for office or joining a commission, McCrary says, "Get involved! It's your community; it's where you live, what could be more important? Don't be afraid! That old business of sticks and stones, that's true," she advised.
Now that McCrary doesn't have to attend meetings, she's looking forward to traveling and doing what she really enjoys. "The best part is driving around this township and knowing you've been a part of all the good things that have happened here because I think we have kept to our plan and made it a great place to live," she said.
To McCrary, the future is bright. From her point of view, Independence Township "has a firm foundation, good ordinances, and plans in place." She has confidence in the new township board, but warns "be diligent because things can slide very quickly and very easily."
Clarkston News reporter