Donna Fisher Retiring From City Government After 39 Years


Donna Fisher has not only witnessed the dramatic changes in Dexter over the past decades, she has had a hand in the process.

At its October 24 meeting, the Dexter City Council issued a Proclamation of Appreciation for Councilmember Donna Fisher’s 39 years of service to the community. Ms. Fisher’s term expired in November, and she did not run for reelection.

“I did a few things for the community, but the community gave me so much more,” Donna commented after the reading. “I’m so grateful that I grew up here and so grateful that I was able to move on into my adult life and contribute here.”

Donna’s heart for Dexter comes the old-fashioned way. She was born and raised here. After graduating college, she moved away for a year but returned to her hometown and got to work.

“Coming back was the best thing I ever did,” says Donna. “I love being here. What more could you want for your kids than to be educated in a community like this?”

The proclamation lists many of Donna’s services to the community. She has been a preschool teacher, Safety Town Coordinator, and Food and Nutrition Secretary. Donna became involved with the city government in 1983 when she was appointed Village Clerk for Dexter. She was appointed to the Village Council in 2004.

“I was lucky to be able to serve for 18 consecutive years with Donna Fisher (March 2004 to Nov 2022),” said Mayor Keough in an email. “Over that time, Donna and I became very good friends. Through her kind-hearted and thoughtful delivery, Donna always remembered that people came first in whatever we were trying to do and in the decisions we made as a Council.”

Donna Fisher with city staff, council members, and students reps about to preside over her final council meeting on Nov. 14 in Mayor Keough’s absence.

Ironically, Donna never intended on a long stint in local government.

“I keep thinking I was not going to `run again, but there was always the next project,” says Donna. “I always thought it would take so long to bring somebody up to speed on the new project that I’ll stay just one more term.”

In a place like Dexter, which has steadily grown over the past two decades and continues to grow, that could mean a long time in leadership. Donna kept running and kept getting elected.

“I have just loved being on the council,” she says. “There’s a lot of guff that goes with it, but the good parts certainly outweigh any hassle.”

“I’ve always wanted the council to work together,” says Donna. “I’ve been on some councils that don’t. But basically, this town has had people who just really care, and that’s good.”

When asked what moments stand out to her on the council, like the proclamation, the list gets long quickly. Three issues in particular rise above the rest.

In 2008, Dexter replaced the decaying bridge on Main St. over Mill Creek Dam and removed the dam. What began as a bridge replacement had escalated into removing the dam, which was also foundational to the bridge. Costs for the project skyrocketed for the village.

“I was really nervous about that, but it was the right thing to do,” says Donna. “We got some grant money, but it was still a stretch for me.”

The dam’s removal drained stagnated Mill Pond exposing the land now used for Mill Creek Park.

In 2014, voters elected to change Dexter from a village to a city. Looking back, it’s now hard to argue with the move. The village has thrived as a city. But at the time, looking to the future before the decision was made was difficult for many people. Donna struggled with the idea of the village she grew up in becoming a city.

“Cityhood was a difficult change,” recalls Donna. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and a lot of people contacted me saying they wanted to remain a village. In the end, the people decided, and it was the right move.”

What Donna considers the high point of her time with the city came when she was still the Village Clerk in the late 1980s. “Opening the Dexter Business and Research Park is probably the highlight of my time with the city,” says Donna.

At the time, Donna recalls, the village was running in the red with significant demands on the budget, such as a new water tower. There was no money to purchase land for a business park as some were pushing for. However, village leaders successfully lobbied Lansing for funds for a new water tower. The village purchased a cornfield on Dan Hoey Rd for its new industrial park and opened it in 1988. Tax money from the park soon became a substantial revenue stream for the village and helped move manufacturing out of downtown. It was a significant change for Dexter that would pay off in the decades to come.

“I have always wanted Dexter to keep those same characteristics I grew up with,” says Donna. “People actually caring about each other when we say ‘hello.’ Being polite, even in disagreement. Being respectful. Plus, we have all these great amenities to enjoy together.”

Dexter’s growth can be a touchy subject for some. Donna understands and can relate to folks who do not like to see their small town grow bigger and bigger.

“But you must grow, and you must do it very carefully,” explains Donna. “That’s where I think Mayor Keough has been very successful in leading us. You may not like what he has to say, but he will never mislead you. This is a very transparent government. It truly is.”

“One of the things I’ve always wrestled with is I want us to grow, have a vibrant downtown, and be financially sound,” she adds. “But I don’t want to sacrifice our character for it. Dexter has grown, but it has always been measured growth. We have to change, but it’s better to be proactive than reactive.”

“Donna was always proud of growing up in Dexter and watching Dexter thrive,” says Mayor Keough. “Prior to serving on Village/City Council, Donna was the Village Clerk for over 20 years. Altogether that represents an incredible four decades of service to the residents and businesses in Dexter. It was an honor to serve with her.”

In regards to the leaders coming after her, Donna advises,

“The right leaders for us are the ones that have ‘old Dexter’ in them. You don’t have to be old, but you’ve got to have the feel of what this community has been and wishes to be, that sense of place. You need to make a concentrated effort to know the community and know what residents want. Be open and responsive to them more than your own ideas. Make yourself available. Sitting at that council table, you must step out of yourself to some extent and think, ‘What is best for everybody?’”

Donna sums it up this way. “You have to be more dedicated to the community than yourself.”

The City of Dexter Proclamation of Appreciation for Donna Fisher’s many years of service.
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