EMU professor uses expertise to counsel Michigan communities
YPSILANTI - Teaching is the overwhelming passion in Joe Ohren's life. Ohren, a professor of political science at Eastern Michigan University and an expert in public administration, teaches on campus and extends his expertise into the community and beyond, working with county public officials in more than 50 Michigan cities.
In his role as coordinator of public service programs for EMU's Institute for Community and Regional Development (ICARD), Ohren works with communities in several different ways.
He is involved in decision-making processes such as building a consensus or improving relationships among elected and appointed officials. At other times, he facilitates a planning process such as thinking through strategic issues and developing an action plan to guide decisions over a period of time.
Most of the cities that Ohren works with are in southeastern Michigan such as Adrian, Jackson, Saline, Monroe and Ypsilanti, but he also has been hired by officials in Lansing, Grand Blanc, Frankenmuth, Muskegon, Grand Haven and Kalamazoo.
"There is a strong network of local government managers and a lot of word-of-mouth contacts. Real challenges are out there," said Ohren, a resident of Superior Township. "Fiscal matters, use of technology and human resources issues are common to many cities."
Ohren has had his expertise tapped in Lansing where he has spoken with several hundred local government finance officials about the many state challenges.
He's currently preparing a proposal to work with the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority, and will conduct a workshop in July for the Michigan Local Government Managers Association.
"I usually have several things going at any given time; some are under contract, but many are provided gratis. Michigan taxpayers already compensate me as a professor and this is an extension of what I do in the classroom," said Ohren.
"Helping people understand is what teachers do and I do it on and off campus," said Ohren, who also is director of EMU's master of public administration program. "The University is very supportive of teaching and EMU's ICARD is a comfortable home."
Fiscal matters and technology are major concerns for most government officials, he said.
"Everyone suffers if people don't think of the public good," said Ohren. "In some circumstances, the tradeoff of paying fewer taxes is an inferior quality of life. What the public doesn't understand is that if the city has less money, it can't make do if residents want to keep the police department, the fire department and all the city services."
For some cities, the answer is an income tax for residents and nonresidents, said Ohren.
Private firms are ahead of city government when it comes to state-of-the-art technology. The difference is money. Updating computers and computer systems in municipalities isn't possible when access to resources is lacking, he said. He recently devoted several days for training Genesee County officials in the use of an interactive municipal finance CD that he helped prepare for the Municipal League Foundation.
"Cities are also experiencing a loss of many people who entered public service in the 1960s. They are now retiring and creating a "brain drain," said Ohren.
But retirement isn't even on the horizon for Ohren.
"While engaging in the learning process, I learn too. I have a greater impact as a teacher than as an elected official," said Ohren.
As an undergraduate, Ohren majored in political science at Aquinas College in his hometown of Grand Rapids. He received a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate in social science with majors in public administration, public finance and metropolitan studies from Syracuse University in New York.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note : Joe Ohren is available for interviews at 734.487.2522. Other Eastern Experts are at http://www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts/
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.