2016-10-13 / Front Page

Council Plans for Departure of City Administrators in 2017

Security at City Hall, Chamber of Commerce Support Scrutinized in St. Ignace Budget
By Sam Morgen

The St. Ignace city manager and department of public works director, its clerk and treasurer, and its downtown development director will all vacate their offices December 31, 2017, the city council learned at a workshop Monday, October 10. While the council has known of the upcoming retirements for some time, Monday’s disclosure is the first time it has learned the exact dates.

At the workshop, Mayor Connie Litzner directed the council’s Negotiations Committee to some up with job descriptions for its city manager and city clerk and treasurer, figure out how to advertise for the openings, and propose a timeline for a smooth transition of new administrators.

The city plans to split the city manager and public works director jobs, which were combined when the city council, in 2011, tapped DPW director Less Therrian to take on the city manager job after the resignation of Eric Dodson. The city treasurer duties were combined with those of the city clerk in a cost-cutting move after treasurer Eugene Elmer resigned at the end of 2012.

The Downtown Development Authority will seek a new director for its own program, and the city council hopes to hire a new DPW director from within that department, leaving the city council with the task of finding a new city manager and clerk/treasurer. Toward those ends, the Negotiations Committee will ask clerk Reneé Vonderwerth and Mr. Therrian to review their own job descriptions, after which it will propose a time to advertise, review, and hire new administrators in time to get oriented to the jobs before Mr. Therrian and Mrs. Vonderwerth leave office.

Councilman Paul Fullerton suggested the city could pay the outgoing administrators to assist in the transitions after they retire, if necessary, and Mrs. Vonderwerth said the end of the year, when she will step down, is a busy time.

The Negotiations Committee, comprised of Councilmen Luke Paquin, Jay Tremble, and Mayor Litzner, will meet at 1:30 p.m. this Thursday, October 13, to begin its process. Mayor Litzner will appoint Councilman Jim Clapperton to take her place on the committee, but will post the meetings as a committee of the whole so that she and other members of the council can attend, if desired, without violating the Open Meetings Act.

Recommendations about the hiring process are hoped to be presented to the full city council in November.

City Budget

Initial discussion of the new city budget also took place at the work session, and Mrs. Vonderwerth told the council that department heads would be submitting narratives of this year’s operations and projections for next year with the budgets they submit, so as to have a better record of city programs.

One glaring problem with the budget, Mayor Litzner pointed out, is a category listed in the budget as “Beautification,” in which Mr. Therrian has budgeted $12,000 for this year.

Mr. Therrian said the category “has been there forever,” and he uses it for expenditures such as new carpeting and window blinds and other non-urgent items, and currently has money there for a new security system for City Hall. Treasurer Vonderwerth said Beautification has been a budget category since before she came to work for the city and agreed that it is used for expenditures other than capital outlay. Capital outlay, she said, would be anything over $5,000. She said she will compile the expenses made from that category to see what the city has been using it for.

Mayor Litzner said budget categories should more accurately reflect their function, and Council agreed that the $6,000 budgeted for security would exceed the $5,000 capital outlay threshold suggested by Mrs. Vonderwerth, anyway.

Mayor Litzner also questioned the $5,000 donation the city makes to the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce, saying the city should know what it is being used for.

The city also pays the Chamber of Commerce $3,000 to produce the Bayside Live concert series in the summer, and the city’s DDA provides free office space for the chamber.

While council members do not oppose city support of the Chamber of Commerce, the organization will be invited to a future meeting to explain its use of city funds.

In a related matter, the St. Ignace Golf and County Club, which is owned by the city, has requested $20,000 from the city to repair the roof and ceiling at the clubhouse and subsidize its budget.

Said Mayor Litzner: “They want us to know they’re running into trouble now before they come here and say, ‘We’re closing; we have no money.’ They’re being fair and warning us that they have issues.”

The golf course had an $18,000 deficit in 2015, according to Mr. Therrian.

She said the city should look into aiding the golf course in its roof repairs.

Efforts to market the golf course better are underway, and Councilman Luke Paquin said the city should find resources like the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau and St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce to consider aiding the golf course’s marketing campaign, especially to motel guests.

Council also discussed other city facilities and expenses it incurs to support them. The DDA contributes $10,000 to the marina, and, in several years, will be faced with a vacant downtown building it owns which now houses the Fort de Buade Museum. The city does not provide support to the St. Ignace Public Library, but it does charge the library for snowplowing services, observed Councilman Clapperton, even though it subsidizes plowing at Little Bear East.

City Hall Security

Mr. Therrian told the city council he has applied for a $6,000 grant from its insurance provider to obtain six new cameras and other security features for City Hall.

The Risk Avoidance Program grant through Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) will pay for half of the $12,000 needed to install the new cameras, which will supplement the current security system, which has five cameras.

“These aren’t cameras we can buy at Wal-Mart, put up, and think they can work,” Mr. Therrian said.

The new system will employ a card system for after-hours entry to the building that will record who enters at what time.

Cameras can be monitored from city offices and police cars.

The Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office surveyed the building and made the security recommendations.

Mr. Therrian said he hopes to hear back from the insurance company by the end of October and would like to install the security features this winter.

He told the council he plans to use surplus money from the City Hall budget to finance the project and has contracted with Advanced Satellite Communications of Livonia to install the system if the city receives the grant.

“The world’s changed a lot in the last 20 years and we haven’t really kept up as much as we should,” said Councilman Paul Fullerton.

Mr. Therrian also said the city clerk’s office also needs a wall between it and the rest of the office, and the water plant and DPW garage need cameras and a card system installed. Those additional security measures are not covered in the MMRMA grant.

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