FLINT TWP. — In years past, efforts to change Flint Township’s name have fallen short at the state legislative level.
But a new bill moving through the Michigan legislature could ultimately help Flint Township to change its name with support from the township board and residents.
On June 3, the Michigan House passed House Bill 4637, which is intended to set procedures that would allow townships to change their names. The legislation, proposed by State Rep. David Martin (R-Davison), received bipartisan support in the House and is advancing to the State Senate for further consideration.
Martin, who represents the 48th District, said that while state laws currently provide a course for cities and villages to change their names (by amending a city or village charter through a vote of the people), townships have not been given the same authority.
“Simply put, the law is not fair,” Martin said. “If a township wants to change its name, and the majority of the voters in the community approve, there’s absolutely no reason why the state should prevent them from doing so.”
If House Bill 4637 passes in the Senate, a township would be allowed to change its name if two-thirds majority of the township governing board approves a resolution. The resolution would then need to be approved by a majority of township voters during an August or November regular election.
In September of 2016, Flint Township Supervisor Karyn Miller and a volunteer group of Flint Township residents formed the Suggestion Committee to explore options for changing the township’s name and to determine the impacts such a decision would have on the community.
Six months later, after holding nine public meetings and a public hearing, the committee proposed “Carman Hills” as the new name for the township and prepared a recommendation for the name change to the Flint Township Board of Trustees.
Name change efforts ground to a halt after Flint Township Attorney Peter Goodstein informed township officials that they did not have a firm legal bearing for changing the township’s name. Suggestion Committee leaders sought assistance from then State Rep. Phil Phelps (49th District), who introduced legislation in 2017 to pave the way for Flint Township and all townships to alter their names.
However, Phelps’ legislation was held up in committee and never made it through the House for a vote.
Jerry Preston, former Chairman of the Suggestion Committee, said that Martin’s legislation could breathe new life into Flint Township’s name change initiative.
“If the bill gets through the Senate and does become law, we would be able to re-form the Suggestion Committee, revisit our prior recommendation and prepare a report to the township board,” he said. “If the board accepts the recommendation, it could then be submitted to voters for approval.”
Preston said that while local momentum has died down for the name change, there is still some interest in the subject.
“There are those that feel that Flint Township is unique and should have its own identity separate from the City of Flint,” he said. “Some businesses have shown hesitancy to settle in the township simply because of the ‘Flint’ name association and the economic issues tied to Flint. Some don’t want the township to be associated with the stigma that surrounds Flint with its water crisis and other issues.”
If Martin’s legislation passes, Preston said that the name change initiative would still need strong local support from the township board and voters.
“It’s been four years since our last efforts, and the current trustees may have a different mood toward the topic,” he said. “And there are some residents who might want to stick with the Flint name and support our name affiliation with the city, even though we’re a separate community.”
Flint Township was organized in 1836 and originally included the townships of Burton, Clayton, Flushing, Mt. Morris, Genesee, Thetford, Vienna and Montrose before those communities were split off. The township was temporarily renamed Garland Township from Oct. 12, 1855 to Jan. 9, 1856, after Burton was split off, according to the Michigan State Historical Society. The township then reverted to its original “Flint” name.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, there is no record of any other Michigan township changing its name.
Efforts to incorporate Flint Township into a city were also made on separate occasions. In 1953, a proposal to incorporate Flint Township into the City of Westhaven was defeated by voters. A subsequent attempt to transform the township into the City of Grandview Heights also failed at the ballot box in the 1970s, even though then Township Supervisor Tom Mansour won the proposed city’s mayoral election.
In 2016/2017, the Suggestion Committee also discussed the idea of converting Flint Township into a city, but most of the members preferred to keep the township’s current form of governance intact.
Carman Hills—the Suggestion Committee’s top name recommendation—was inspired by Elijah Carman, the area’s first settler who arrived with his family in 1835. Other top name suggestions included Garland, Dyewood Heights and Genesee Hills.