Michael B. Powers is influential throughout Clarence, as a town justice, an advocate of the town’s green-space program, and by helping create a memorial for victims of the crash of Continental Flight 3407.
On Thursday, the Clarence Chamber of Commerce will honor Powers, 59, a partner at Phillips Lytle, as its Citizen of the Year. He reflected on his work in town:
How did a common vision come together for the Flight 3407 memorial on Long Street?
One of the reasons why Phillips Lytle created [the nonprofit] Remember Flight 3407 Inc. and why I agreed to be the president is, we all knew that this had to be done right. And we all knew that it could be something very significant and good for the community, but it also had the potential to create friction and hard feelings. ... It was important to make sure all ... interests were respected and accommodated, and to come up with something that would not draw significant numbers of people to the neighborhood, because it was important for the Long Street residents that that not happen. But at the same time, providing a very symbolic and reverent place for the families and others to come.
[Architect] Joe D’Angelo and my board deserve great credit for being able to come up with what we did. ... I want to emphasize that – I didn’t do that alone. And Lori Adams, who chaired the subcommittee that gathered all the community input, that was a big part of what we eventually did.
As a town justice, what motivated you start a drug court in Clarence?
Starting the drug court is the reason why I decided to seek the position in the first place. I never had any plans to become a town judge. But as I saw the drug problem in Clarence worsening, and very little being done to address it, other than the great efforts of law enforcement, I pursued the job. … I have the best drug court team anywhere, in my opinion, and I could not do this without them and my clerk, Mary Zimmerman. …
We accept only dependent diagnosis, not abuse, so we accept the hardest cases out there. We presently have a success rate of around 85 percent, in terms of graduating people who come into the court. And when they graduate, they have to be drug- and alcohol-free for a year, and we do multiple random tests every week to ensure that. They have to have completed their treatment and counseling, and they have to be either employed full time or in school full time. So it’s been a tremendous success.
What can other towns take from Clarence’s experience with its Greenprint program to preserve open space?
They can learn that they can increase property values, lower taxes, control the cost of services while enhancing the quality of life for the residents. It is a win-win-win situation, and we have proved it.
You helped revive Little League Football in town. How did that come about?
Little League Football died in Clarence in the 1980s, but Clarence kids were allowed to play in Williamsville until the early 1990s [when Williamsville’s program filled up]. … I spent about a year researching the different leagues, the financial requirements, the equipment requirements, where we would play.
After a year, I concluded that we could do it. So we did, with another extraordinary group of people who I couldn’t have done it without. We started the Clarence Little League Football Association. … It is such a neat thing to drive by Harris Hill and Wehrle and see all those little kids running around. It puts a big smile on my face. And the groups that have taken over since I stepped down have done a superb job of growing the program.