Reform and Action

Don Brown has a passion for public service in our communities

A man posing otuside

Photo Credit: Rob Hall

icon of a calendarSeptember 19, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Rene Wisely and Patti Johnson Georgevich

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At 19, Don Brown, CAS ’89, entered politics because he believed it was a matter of life or death.

In 1984, Brown’s neighbor had a medical emergency at his home and died en route to the hospital. The ambulance team could only transport him — it couldn’t provide medicine or other interventions at the scene because Washington Township didn’t have advanced life support.

“I thought that was backwards,” Brown says. “I was a 19-year-old kid and went to the township and said, ‘Why is this? How could this happen?’ Officials told me, ‘Son, we don’t have money for advanced life support.’”

Brown developed a passion for reform and action, motivating him to study political science at OU.

Now, 35 years later, he’s chairman of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and the longest-serving elected official in Macomb County.

As a non-traditional student at OU, he took classes at night and worked days as a laborer for seat maker Johnson Controls. At that time, Washington Township put him on a committee to research bringing advanced life support to the community.

Brown enlisted his OU professors to create a survey to gauge public opinion on several topics, including paying a millage to bring advanced life support to the township. The township paid OU for the research.

Survey results showed community support. Local government put it on the ballot. Voters passed it. Brown ran for the township’s Board of Trustees at 25 so he could ensure advanced life support was implemented as he’d envisioned. He won his first election.

Brown says, “Advanced life support is still the most significant thing I’ve done in my career because it saves so many lives to this day.”

He took his passion for local politics to the county level — where he concentrates on initiatives to improve the quality of life for the approximately 874,000 who call Macomb County home. The Board of Commissioners recently passed its first-ever $1 billion budget, expanded by federal COVID-19 funds, to tackle long-term county investments in infrastructure like underground improvements to protect water quality, stormwater retention and sewers. Brown notes that environmental quality directly impacts a resident’s happiness.

Brown and the board also want to construct a diversion center at the county jail, offering support services to defendants battling mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction to prioritize prevention.

“We want people to get the treatment they need rather than housing them in our jail. It isn’t just expensive, it’s not the way to reduce recidivism,” Brown says.

Brown finds county government a sweet spot for public service. He can be a liaison for business and individuals, as well as a bridge between the state and federal government to local governments.

Prior to joining Macomb County, Brown spent 18 years as a community outreach coordinator for two members of Congress. He was a liaison for Michigan Governor John Engler and Secretary of State Candice Miller, with whom he continues to work regularly. He also planned and executed successful campaigns for other politicians.

His deep network helps him mobilize all the help he can for businesses in the 480-square-mile county.

“Don’s a genuine Macomb County guy,” says Miller, now Macomb County Public Works commissioner. “We’re not the glitziest people in the world, but we’re solid. We work hard. We expect people to live up to their word. Don’s a real reflection of our Macomb County values.”

Brown is also proud of the Macomb Orchard Trail. In the mid ’90s, he was the leading proponent to purchase a railroad right-of-way and convert it into a hike-and-bike path. With an MDOT grant, as well as county and community funds, Miller (then a U.S. representative) also secured congressional funding to pave it. Beginning in Shelby Township and traveling northeast to Richmond, the 24-mile trail was completed in 2006. Brown says it’s “an asset for our future.”

Still a Washington Township resident — and representing it as part of the county’s District 7 — his continued motivation to positively impact other people’s lives hits “close to home.”

“I have four kids. I want to pass on something of value to our next generation,” Brown says.

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