James D. Reader, 1913-2004:
A Life of Leadership
by C. Edward Wall
James D. Reader was born on 29 June 1913 in Asia Minor -- Turkey. In 1922, during the purge of Christians in Turkey, Jim's family fled to Greece. Jim's father wanted to move his family to the United States, where Jim's uncle had come in 1913. Thus, Jim's family left the Greek island where the family was living temporarily and moved to Piraeus, which is the seaport of Athens, where they applied at the American Embassy to immigrate to the United States. There, a chance meeting with a relative who worked in the American Embassy, helped expedite the family's immigration to the United States in 1923.
Jim spent much of his youth in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended public school. In 1933 -- during the Great Depression -- Jim's entire family moved to Ann Arbor, where Jim's brother attended the University of Michigan Medical School -- and where Jim also planned to enroll. However, Jim's college years were cut short by the Depression, during which Jim ran the family grocery store in Ann Arbor. [The store was on East Ann Street between Ingalls and Glen.] This commitment propelled Jim into the world of business, where he rose to become Vice President of JR Paper Company in Detroit. Subsequently, Jim's management skills would be critical in transforming Pittsfield Township operations to the modern standards that are evident today.
Jim met his wife -- Helene Diamond -- in Detroit, through his mother's friend, who insisted she knew the right woman for Jim. After some hesitation, Jim finally called Helene, and 23 days later they were engaged to be married. They married in 1949.
Jim and Helene had one daughter, Barbara, and a son, James. In 1979, the family suffered a severe car accident, and their son was killed. Barbara survived, and continued to live with her parents.
Jim and Helene moved to Pittsfield Township in 1952, where they lived at 2045 Hogback Road [eastern Pittsfield Township]. Then, the eastern part of the township was primarily rural -- except for small subdivisions between Washtenaw and Packard (Oak Park), and south of Packard (Clubview).
Shortly thereafter, Jim learned that a developer planned to annex all the property along Hogback Road into the city of Ann Arbor. At that time an annexation vote would take place in both the city of Ann Arbor and the township, and the vote totals combined. However, there was one condition in the law that said the vote of people living in the affected area took precedence over the combined vote. Jim and his wife voted against annexation, which lost by their two votes.
Subsequently, the Pittsfield Township board rezoned property south of Packard Road for 1200 apartments, and rezoned what currently is the Meijer site on Ellsworth and Carpenter for a mobile home park. A group of neighbors organized a write-in slate to oppose the current township board, and Jim was elected Treasurer in 1956. Working with the outgoing Treasurer to learn tax collections, etc., Jim assumed office in 1967 -- where he served until his retirement in 1987.
The township had three full-time employees at the time, but the Treasurer was not one of them. Jim quickly discovered the primitive nature of records management -- still hand-written documents. He found there were too many receipt books in the township and devised a system by which receipts were effectively and efficiently handled. He introduced the first automation to township operations when he acquired several used Burroughs Sensamatic machines, which were reprogrammed for township operations.
Jim saw many deficiencies in township operations, and began to resolve them. For example, at the time, there was no applications process for re-zonings -- but not for long.
The township had a fledgling Utilities Department, and the decision was made to make it "revenue supported." Jim undertook the management of the system, and soon had efficient bookkeeping systems in place. More important, he initiated an ordinance that enabled benefit and capital improvement charges, which funded future expansion of the system. Subsequently, a water line was built along Hogback Road. Another was extended to the Clubview Subdivision, then to Michigan Avenue, and finally on to the western part of the township. Utility expansion became governed by a land use plan, which was adhered to carefully. The entire system was financed by charges -- not taxes.
Jim always was concerned about water quality and drainage issues. He initiated an ordinance that required water retention on all new developments, which became a model for many other communities. This commitment is reflected in the waterway that encompasses much of the township north of Washtenaw Avenue -- today known as the James D. Reader Waterway.
Jim introduced centralized purchasing and public bidding, increasing accountability and cost-efficiency throughout all township operations. He even began requesting state refunds on gas taxes paid by the township when it purchased gas for its vehicles.
In 1957, the township population was about 8000. The [then] new Township Hall was located at 701 West Ellsworth. Some years later, while Jim was on the board, a Utilities building was built south of the Township Hall, and upon his retirement as Treasurer, that building was renamed in his honor as the James D. Reader Utilities Building. [Subsequently, the intervening space between the Utilities Building and Township Hall would be filled in, finishing the structure that stands there today.]
Prior to Jim's election, township operations had been controlled by rural residents of the township. Jim won the respect of traditional residents as well as those moving into the more-urban portions of the township -- opening the way for other "urban" residents to enter into leadership roles.
Jim ran the Treasurer's and Utilities offices as he would have run his own business. He invested tax monies gathered on behalf of other entities, e.g., the school system, collecting interest for the ten days before he had to turn the money over to the other jurisdictions. In one year Jim earned $600,000 for the township. He ran the Utilities operations with such efficiency and frugality that one year Pittsfield Township actually declared a dividend.
In the 1970s, Jim worked to make Pittsfield Township the first Charter Township in Washtenaw County. The area around Arborland had just been annexed into the city of Ann Arbor, resulting in Pittsfield Township loosing 15% of its tax base. Charter township status was achieved, making future annexation more difficult, and enabling the township to offer more services directly to Pittsfield residents. For example, under Charter status, the township chose to start its own Police Department, rather than contract with neighboring law enforcement agencies.
Jim saw the potential of Pittsfield Township, and nurtured it with care. He similarly saw potential elsewhere, for example, developing a mobile home park in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he transformed 30 acres of desert into a beautiful place to live.
Jim was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church in Ann Arbor, where he was a faithful and generous parishioner. He always was proud of his Greek heritage, and shared it with others on many occasions. Former township board members -- to this day -- remember Helene's wonderful baklava, which Jim occasionally would share before Board Meetings.
Jim brought many attributes to Pittsfield Township -- honesty, commitment, business acumen, generosity, and affection for others -- attributes that helped lay the foundation of a great community. Jim helped make Pittsfield Charter Township renown for its leadership and governance, and a respected model to other communities throughout the state. He helped make the Pittsfield community one that more than 30,000 people today are proud to call "home."