Interim city attorney hopes her new role becomes permanent

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 By Tom Gantert

Legal News
 
Bethany Smith sat in a conference room on a mid-day morning and reviewed her day so far in her new role at the interim city attorney for the city of Jackson.
 
Smith had worked on a deal where the city was selling an alley to a private company. She put together the ordinances that would be part of the upcoming City Council meeting a week away. A resident called and wanted to know how to handle a “yard sale” sign put in his yard without his permission (the city removed it). And she monitored a potential million-dollar class action lawsuit involving the city’s storm water fees.
 
“All before 11 o’clock,” said the 40-year-old Jackson attorney.
 
Smith was appointed to her new position by the City Council after Julius Giglio retired when his contract expired in June.
 
"Bethany is a very essential member of the city of Jackson’s leadership team,” said Vice Mayor and City Council Member Andrew Frounfelker. “Bethany brings with her a capable and strong set of skills to the city’s busy law department. She is able to manage the many legal challenges and wide complexities of our constantly changing and large municipal law caseload.”
 
He said he values Smith’s ability to address an issue and report back to the City Council the findings in easily understood terms and details that non-lawyers can process in order to make sound decisions for the city.
 
Smith said she knew she’d be a lawyer as early as kindergarten. Growing up near Warren, Ohio about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, she was fascinated by the historic buildings that the lawyers occupied.
 
“It made it seem like such a noble profession if you worked in these buildings,” she said. “It gives you such a reverence for the law. I told everyone at a young age that I would be an attorney someday.”
 
She pursued the childhood dream when she went to the University of Michigan-Flint to get an undergraduate degree in English. Smith said her Plan B was to be an English teacher because she wanted a backup plan in case she couldn’t afford law school.
 
In 2000, she graduated from the Wayne State law school. In her first four years out of law school, she worked for the Robert Flack Law Office in Jackson as an associate and then the Business Intelligence Association in Portage and the American Electric Power in Buchanan. 
 
Smith commuted from Jackson to Buchanan—two hours each way.

She’s lived in Jackson since 1998, and began working for the city as a deputy city attorney in 2010. Smith has grown to like the job.
 
“It keeps it very interesting,” she said. “Something new is always happening. You rarely get the same thing twice.”
 
Smith oversees all the non-criminal legal work for the city, with Gil Carlson handling the criminal side of the job.
 
When Giglio retired, Smith said she realized her work load as the city attorney was going to increase.
 
“There’s a lot more to do than I knew,” she said. “I took a day off and when I came back I had about 60 emails. Once, I got 16 in an hour.”
 
As an assistant to Giglio, Smith said she received about a dozen emails a day.

Still, Smith would like to stay on as the city attorney and remove the interim label.
 
“I like municipal law,” she said. “You are helping your community. I like interacting with the citizens. I enjoy the duties of my job and we have a wonderful group of professionals here.”
 
A self-proclaimed beach bum, she also enjoys driving to Michigan’s resort towns.
 
“I like to drive to the west coast,” said Smith, a single mother with a 10-year-old son, Drake. “Montague if I want something quiet and Grand Haven if I want some fun.”
 
Smith takes a walk every day at Cascades Park, enjoying the quiet time to think about her day.
 
And her busy schedule gives her much fodder for thought.
 
She recalls one day a few years ago when a man called and asked if he could legally bring a squirrel inside his house as a pet.
 
After combing through the city’s codes, she could find no violation.
 
“But it wasn’t ‘Could he?’” Smith said with a slight smile. “It was ‘Should he?’”
 

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