HARRISON – Having been born and raised in Harrison, and having served its citizens for 20 years, Tracey (Beadle) Connelly is what anyone would recognize as a hometown girl. And now, Connelly is rapidly approaching her June 30 retirement from that lengthy career with the City of Harrison – a highly-accomplished career which will be celebrated with a retirement party in her honor from 3-5 p.m. Thursday, June 16 at the Harrison Town Square.
The Town Square is just one of the many city projects which came to fruition in large part through Connelly’s commitment and dedicated efforts.
In an interview with the Cleaver, Connelly explained that her work life began as a child working in her family’s grocery store, Northland IGA, where she worked for 24 years. After graduating from Harrison Community High School, she went on to graduate from Mid Michigan Community College, and then to Central Michigan University where she earned an accounting degree. Connelly said attaining that four-year degree took about nine years, as life and children demanded much of her time. She then worked for Waste Management for four years, until relocating that administrative office would have required a move to Flint, a move that did not appeal.
Her work with local government began when she applied for and was hired as Harrison City Treasurer where she served for five years. When Jack McNutt left the position of Harrison City Clerk, Connelly moved into that role. She explained that when the city began applying for grants, a title of “city manager” was needed. That title was voted in by the citizens, and her job title became “Harrison City Manager and Clerk.” If only it were that simple: Connelly also wears the legally-required hats of Chief of Police, Zoning Administrator, and more.
She explained that there is accounting and “governmental” accounting, so she had to learn the ins and outs of governmental. Connelly said she had studied it in school, but it meant putting it into use.
Asked what she found most daunting in that new position, Connelly explained that she is by nature a “people pleaser,” and that it was difficult dealing with people who were not happy – and not being able to make them happy.
“The economic development and the grants, I loved that part,” she said. “[Projects] usually take at least a couple years with grants involved. Some took longer than that; when we built the city hall here, we planned for five years … meetings and meetings and meetings before this was built.”
That move was made in January 2017, some 50 years after the former Harrison City Hall building was constructed in 1967: a building that originally housed both library and city hall in the front while the DPW, fire hall and police station were all in the back.
Connelly also spoke fondly of her fellow employees/staff and their efforts on behalf of the city.
“There’s only 11 of us – aside from the fire department volunteers, who aren’t employees,” she said. “It’s just having the right people, that want to be here and want to do it. They want to see Harrison succeed. I’m grateful for all the employees I’ve had, who’ve worked as hard as I have to pull in the same direction; and [having] a Council that was supportive of all these things.
“I think Harrison has so much potential, and it can happen. We just have to have the right people in the right way, and wanting to do it. It’ll improve the quality of life for our residents, our visitors, and hopefully when they come visit, they say ‘Hey, this is a pretty nice place, let’s bring the kids up here.’ That’s been the goal all along.”
When asked what her favorite project has been, Connelly said probably City Hall.
“I don’t know, they’ve all got a special place in my heart,” she said. “People think that government moves slow, and it does, but you don’t have an unlimited checkbook. So, you have to find these funds, then you have to apply for them, then you have to wait for somebody to approve it. Then, they have their procedures, so you have to wait for someone to say now you can spend it [and possibly ‘you have x-amount of time to spend it or we’re taking it back’].”
She was also quick to say that applying for grants is the easy part.
“The stuff you have to do afterwards when you get the grant – people wouldn’t believe the paperwork,” Connelly said. “I have a whole vault full of stuff we have to keep that’s grant-related.”
In her tenure, Connelly has taken on a complex network of obligations in the city’s financial/developmental interests. She explained that her involvement with these many organizations has crucial to coordination of efforts, as well as preventing duplication of efforts, thus ensuring maximum productivity/success.
Some of those organizations include: Harrison City Council; Harrison Downtown Development Authority; Harrison Planning Commission; Clare County Land Bank; Harrison City Mark Advisory Board; Harrison Area Economic Development Corp.; Rural Task Force; Harrison Street Fair; Clare County Broadband Users; Clare County Brownfield; Harrison Chamber of Commerce; Clear County Clerks; RESD Culinary Arts; Clare County Visitors Bureau; Hazard Mitigation (Emergency Management); Wellhead Protection; LEPD/LPT (Emergency Management); Area Health Education Center; MAC-TV; as well as Harrison Rotary, which got sidelined by the pandemic.
Those groups/boards meet at varied intervals, sometimes weekly, monthly, weekends, multiple times a month or quarterly depending on need, plus additional special meetings. And, not all of it falls within the traditional workday, meaning some are in the early morning or in the evening. Connelly said a 50-60 hour work week was not uncommon.
In particular, Connelly noted the Wellhead Protection Project, which educates children about the importance of protecting subsurface water from contamination.
“I think it’s been really good to educate the kids,” she said. “Some of those are starting to be adults now, hopefully we’ve had an influence on them and they’ll educate their kids.”
As her career becomes a rearview mirror look at accomplishments, Connelly sees the many financial “wins” she has been pivotal in bringing to the City of Harrison and its residents. Some of it is repair and replacement of aging infrastructure, some is for the physical well-being/social enjoyment of the citizens, and much of it is aimed at enabling the city to grow in a way that encourages not only financial growth, but also growth in community awareness and pride.
Connelly leaves behind a solid tally of grants sought and attained through diligence and financial savvy which have brought the community some $13.318 million-plus in project grants. Of those 31-plus grants, 17 required the city to make partial matches which totaled $3.929 million-plus. The largest match portion was $2.734 million on the two USDA loans totaling $6.687 million for water and sewer upgrades. Taking out the calculator, it takes only a moment to learn that for all the improvements and projects made possible by the grants/matches, the city’s obligation amounts to 29.5 cents for each grant dollar received.
For those who may not recall all these projects, the grants include: Downtown Revitalization; Infrastructure Inventory; Safe Routes To School; Harrison City Market; Blight (two demolitions); Playground Equipment; Various Fire Grants; Water Mains and Waste Water Lift Stations; Rising Tide-master plans; Trainings; Town Square; DNR; Community Development Block Grant; Ladies Group; Michigan Economic Development Corp.-Rising Tide; U.S. Department of Agriculture; MDOT-Clare County Transit; Phelps Nature Trail; Street Paving; State Disaster Assistance; Parking Lot (engineering); Streetscaping on Business Route 127; USDA-water; and USDA-sewer.
Connelly noted that Project Rising Tide, the governor’s initiative, gave the city a lot of tools it could not have afforded so quickly, giving the city a jumpstart to tackle projects that followed. She also said the water and sewer project will make the city ready for more economic development, which could include a possible hotel.
“And the senior development, I wholeheartedly believe in that,” she said. “It’s very needed.”
Envisioned projects for the city do not stop there, however. Additional grants/matches being worked on currently include an electric vehicle charging station ($70,000/$40,000) and a downtown parking lot ($250,000/$100,000).
Vision is something Connelly truly embraces, holding it almost as dear as her love for the community of Harrison. That optimism extends to her successor Harrison City Manager Justin Cavanaugh.
“I think he’s going to do a really good job,” she said. “He’s from Harrison and has the same attitude and heart that I have.
“I think it was an education for all of us to learn where we were going and why we were doing these things,” Connelly said, explaining that the city staff had embraced the projects collectively as a family. “And we weren’t just taking money to take money, and once they saw what happened and why we were doing it: for improvements to the community.”
That staff includes a majority of Harrison natives, who therefore have a commitment to betterment of their community. When asked what she would like people to think of when they recall her service, Connelly’s answer was straightforward.
“I hope that they think that I have the City of Harrison’s best interests at heart,” she said. “I think it has so much potential, and I totally put my heart and soul into making it happen. I just think Harrison will keep on rolling and rolling, getting better and better. Harrison is such a wonderful place. I raised my kids here and I would do it again.”
So, with so many accomplishments soon to be behind her, what does Connelly see for her own future? Spending more time with her family which includes her four (soon to be five) grandchildren – as well as traveling and spending some time as a snowbird. Harrison will still be home when the weather is not so cold.
“I want to be with grandkids more than once or twice a year,” she said. “I started working when I was 10 years old, and I’ve hit the bricks running every day since. I want to sit down and drink my tea, and watch the news or whatever else I want to watch.”
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