2016-11-24 / News

St. Ignace Committee Looks at Options for Its Search for New City Manager

By Erich T. Doerr

St. Ignace is looking at its options as it searches to find a new city manager to replace Les Therrian, who is retiring at the end of 2017. The city council Negotiation and Policy Committee dedicated its Tuesday, November 15, meeting to a discussion of the topic, for the moment focusing more heavily on how it will conduct the search than on qualities it is looking for in a manager.

The meeting included Mayor Connie Litzner and council and committee members Luke Paquin and Jim Clapperton. The committee looked at options for posting the position and discussed approaches other local communities have taken. Mrs. Litzner presented the committee an advertisement from Sault Ste. Marie to fill a similar manager position that the city could consider following as an example. The Soo advertisement listed the city’s desires for a new manager, such as having two to three years of prior experience. The job description St. Ignace used the last time it hired a manager, focusing on economic development and planning, will likely serve as an important source of information for the new one.

The committee will work with Mr. Therrian to compile a list of his job duties, both as manager and Department of Public Works director, to use in the description. It will have several other city officials also submit similar job duty information, a measure that could help with future hiring efforts for other positions. The list could also help with any future dividing or combining of positions.

The committee discussed what it could look for in a manager, with Mrs. Litzner pointing out a suggestion that the city seek a young candidate, even one who would use St. Ignace as a stepping stone to a position with a larger community, might be a good one. Managers may come and go, the committee agreed, but their good ideas will stay with the community.

St. Ignace has had prior success with professionally qualified managers, even relatively short-term ones. Rande Wilson, the manager during the early 1980s, only stayed for about five years, but during that time he oversaw the construction of the waterfront boardwalk, sidewalks, and large water and sewer projects, and the formation of the Downtown Development Authority. The ideas he brought to the downtown district are still being built on today.

Mr. Paquin said there are some challenges to attracting younger talent to the area, as many recent graduates today pick where they want to work, then seek out positions that will take them there.

In the past, Mr. Clapperton said, the city has favored local candidates for the manager position, as there was a perception they would have more investment in the area’s success. While he perceives local experience as a plus, he said it is not a deal breaker now.

The committee discussed how the amount of experience of its new manager could affect what the person is paid, saying it will be best to develop a payment range for the position. The city is considering a discussion with Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning to see what other local managers are paid and what their duties are.

The city needs quality leadership and fresh ideas, Mr. Paquin said, and must be willing to pay for them.

“We shouldn’t ‘cheap out’ in this area,” Mr. Paquin said.

Mr. Therrian has served for years as both the city’s manager and its DPW director. The committee discussed the city’s options for dividing the two positions back up when a new manager is hired. If the city chooses to go this route, it will also need to seek out a new hire for the director position. Alternatively, the city could hire a manager and have that person oversee the DPW as part of their duties.

A progressive planning role, the committee discussed, is one role often found in common for both a city manager and a downtown development director, and it may be possible to combine aspects of those two positions here.

Mayor Litzner is exploring any legal ramifications of that proposal with city attorney Tom Evashevski.

The committee also discussed a possible partnership on the search with the Michigan Municipal League (MML). The MML could help post the position and find candidates. The city was apprehensive about committing to an agreement with the organization following the struggles neighboring Mackinaw City had with it in a prior search.

City Clerk and Treasurer Renee Vonderwerth is also preparing to retire. The committee briefly talked about what St. Ignace could look for in a new hire to fill the position, with an accounting background being sought. The city will consider splitting up the positions of clerk and treasurer if that is advantageous.

The committee also discussed having the city’s various department heads meet with the city council more. The members said they do not want to see the council micro-managing the department heads, but that a quarterly report to the group on their work would be informative.

Mrs. Litzner and the council want to encourage citizens to attend meetings and give the city their input. The public is welcome to attend all St. Ignace meetings, including committees.

“It’s not about what we want; it’s about what St. Ignace wants,” Mrs. Litzner said. “We do want to hear” citizens’ opinions.

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