Q&A with Diane Brown Wilhelm, Midland City Council Ward IV

Diane Brown Wilhelm represents Ward IV on Midland’s City Council. That ward covers the northeast corner of Midland; it’s one of five wards in the city. She’s served on City Council since 2011.

 

In addition to her work on the Council, Brown Wilhelm has held leadership roles with several community organizations, including Shelterhouse and Mid-Michigan Community Family Ministries. She’s also a trustee on the Michigan Municipal League board.
 

Diane Brown Wilhelm represents Ward IV, in northeast Midland, on Midland’s City Council.

For her many efforts, she was one of three persons to receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award in the Great Lakes Bay Region in January. The award was presented by Saginaw Valley State University.

 

Brown Wilhelm first came to Midland in 1983 to work in the Information Services department at Bechtel Power, the company building the nuclear power plant. That project was eventually canceled. She later worked for Dow and then moved over in 1996 to Accenture, a global professional services company. Brown Wilhelm does internal work and client work. One of those clients is Dow. She’s involved in Integration for Mergers and Acquisitions and large strategic programs.

 

She’s originally from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She attended Ashland College, now University, and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Saginaw Valley State University and a master’s in public administration from Central Michigan University.

 

Q: What led you to serve on the City Council?

 

A: When I was working in my master’s program, I took a public policy class. We were working in two teams. Our team’s topic was “No Child Left Behind.” We debated and discussed our topic for several weeks and then the professor ended it, but I said ‘We’re not done; we didn’t solve the problem.’ He said, ‘That’s politics.’

He later asked me what I was going to do going forward. He told me I was good at debate, gathering my data, and stating my case. I saw in the City’s newsletter a posting about an opening on the Planning Commission. I called Jon Lynch, the planning director. I eventually submitted an application, got interviewed by City Council, and then I was appointed.
 

Midland’s City Council has been meeting through Zoom since last spring with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five years later, Bruce Johnson, the councilman for Ward IV, announced he wasn’t going to run again. I got some calls about running for City Council. I thought about it, and met with Jon (Lynch) who was the City Manager (by that time). I then learned that Bruce had resigned before the election. He was leaving town. So, I got appointed to the vacant seat. I was sworn in on Aug. 31, 2011. I then ran for election unopposed that November.

 

Q: What are three challenges facing the City?

 

A: Of course, the sanitary sewer system. We have work to do there — a lot of work to be done and it’s very expensive. Second, from a budget perspective, every year it’s getting harder and harder. We want to continue to provide top-notch services. There are a lot of special projects that need to be done but there’s only so much money. But, we also need to focus on the future.
 

This is an image from a video produced by the City of Midland about the sanitary and storm sewer systems. Brown Wilhelm says one of the challenges facing the City is making improvements in the sanitary system.

We want to attract businesses and retain talent, too. I was the average age (of a person living here) when I moved here 38 years ago. And now, I’m again the average age. People that come to Midland call this their home. We need to look at that next generation who are going to stay here. We need that talent here. If we don’t have an attractive place where they want to live, they won’t come. This generation is more mobile. We need to listen to them — they’re going to step in for us as we retire.

 

Our vision is to be a community where everyone thrives. Significant progress has been made over the years and there is more work to be done. Continuing collaborative efforts with our community partners will keep us moving in the right direction for an inclusive community where everyone feels safe, respected, valued, and has a voice.

 

Q: Who have been your mentors?

 

A: I’ve had a lot of them. My greatest mentors have been my parents (Jean and Willie Brown). They taught me a lot. The things that tend to stick with me are you have to work and you have to work hard. In the midst of all your work, you have to give back. You can be that one person who can make a difference in someone’s life. And, keep God first. You want to do what’s right. Every decision you make, there’s a consequence. Good decision, good consequence; bad decision, bad consequence. It’s your decision. You have to decide which way you want to live.

 

Q: What does the MLK Jr. Drum Major Award mean to you?

 

A: I think it’s a huge honor. When I do things, I do them from my heart. I see things that I can do to help somebody else. On holidays, including Christmas, we’d take the kids to serve meals to people in need before we’d open presents. Even as a child, my parents taught us to give back. It’s just something that is very meaningful. It’s part of who we are as a family.
 

Brown Wilhelm is one of three recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr Drum Major Award in the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2021.

I was totally surprised when I got the award. It made feel like I was making a difference for the better. It was humbling. I don’t do it for recognition. It makes me feel that I am being part of the change.

 

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom is a communications professional and managing editor of Catalyst Midland. He's currently a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He was the co-producer on the WDCQ documentary "Breached! The Tittabawassee River Disaster."
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