2017-08-03 / News

As City Manager, Stelmaszek Would Like To Improve Blight, Planning for Future Needs

City Council, Incoming Manager Share Their Perspectives and Expectations
By Erich T. Doerr

Michael Stelmaszek has accepted the position of St. Ignace city manager and the city council expects he will bring to the position skills in budgeting and planning for future city fiscal needs, writing and implementing clear policies, negotiating, and open communication with the council and public. Mr. Stelmaszek has said he would like to see residential areas of St. Ignace improved and blight enforced, among other goals.

He was interviewed by members of the council May 30 and July 11 before the council made the decision to hire him, with both of the interviews providing insight into his management style and feelings about St. Ignace.

“It’s my honor to have been selected as the manager,” Mr. Stelmaszek told The St. Ignace News. “I’m really happy they have voted me in unanimously. That gives me encouragement that I have the confidence of the council and that I have a responsibility to maintain that in my duties.”

Mayor Connie Litzner said she thinks his experience, especially with budgeting, will be a benefit to the city. She finds him to be an honest and hardworking person who will give it his all. She is interested in seeing the direction he will help take St. Ignace in the future and the new ideas he will bring to the table.

“He has some strong values that I think will be good for St. Ignace,” Mayor Litzner said.

The city and Mr. Stelmaszek are finalizing a start date and compensation. He will continue to work until mid-September at Kingsford, where he is a lieutenant with the public safety department.

He told The St. Ignace News he wants to be a positive influence for both city employees and the public.

Councilmember Paul Fullerton told The St. Ignace News he thinks Mr. Stelmaszek was the best applicant the city had during its manager search, believing he will be a good asset for St. Ignace in his new role. Councilmember Jim Clapperton said Mr. Stelmaszek is well qualified for his new role, noting he has two master’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree, and has worked in city roles for 25 years. He said the switch to a new manager marks a good changeover point for the city, allowing some issues like housing and blight to come back to the forefront with a fresh set of eyes looking at them, after earlier efforts to deal with them seemed to stall.

“I believe he’s got the credentials for it,” Mr. Clapperton said. “There are some advantages to having someone who is not from the area...He doesn’t have to worry about being related to everyone in town or things like that, [which] could be a problem for some people.”

Mr. Clapperton feels it is remarkable that Mr. Stelmaszek acquired level II tax assessor credentials during the St. Ignace search and interview process. He did so to prepare for the manager role that he sought, noting the experience would help give him a better understanding of the city’s tax implications.

Mr. Stelmaszek was one of three finalists for the city manager position, with former Lexington Village Business Manager Thomas Raymond and former Okemah, Oklahoma, City Manager Richard Hart. The council used a special work session July 17 to deliberate about who would be offered the position. The city had secured references and background checks on all finalists. The council considered all of the finalists to be well qualified candidates, but narrowed the field to Mr. Stelmaszek and Mr. Raymond as discussion began. Councilmember Robert St. Louis said at the time that the city could not have lost with either candidate. Mr. Stelmaszek prevailed based on his experience and greater availability, as he would live here. Mr. Fullerton said at the work session that, as city manager, Mr. Stelmaszek could bring ideas from a larger community to help St. Ignace.

The other finalist, Mr. Raymond, recently built a house in Roscommon and his wife took a new job in that area, leading to concerns about his proposal to commute to work for the St. Ignace position. The council favored a manager who will live in town.

Mr. Stelmaszek grew up in Rudyard while his father worked at a prison in Kinross. He left the area after high school when he joined the military, and served in Germany. He returned to the Upper Peninsula and worked in Iron Mountain before joining the Kingsford Public Safety Department in 1992. His parents still live in Kinross.

He expects to work for at least another 10 years. He believes that since he is now more than 50 years old, he should transition away from an active public safety role before he becomes a liability.

As a manager, Mr. Stelmaszek strives to be earnest, and humble when he can, but assertive when the need arises. He wants city employees to know their jobs and how to perform them, noting they should be evaluated to make sure they follow the criteria of their positions. He sees no problem in being a strong boss when he has to, noting his law enforcement experience and the constant monitoring that comes with those endeavors in a community.

On the finance side of things, he said he is fiscally conservative, aiming to maintain existing services while having funds ready for necessary infrastructure projects down the road. His long-term goals for St. Ignace are fiscal stability and maintained infrastructure.

While working in Kingsford, Mr. Stelmaszek sought out an administrative role with the department and was promoted into one as a lieutenant in 2013, becoming involved in all aspects of managing the department. His role has seen him gain valuable experience writing policies so their intent is clear, writing grant applications, creating budgets, and negotiating with unions. In the latter task, he strived to find the common ground that would be affordable to the city while looking at both sides of the relevant issues.

Mr. Clapperton noted that the public safety department was $100,000 under budget during Mr. Stelmaszek’s time in Kingsford. Mr. Stelmaszek credited that success to his ability to get the grants the department needed.

When calming any dissent from members of the public, he tries to take time to explain the issues and possible alternatives to them. He believes he will need to serve as a mediator between the city and the council if the city staff has any concerns with its actions. He hopes to use policy, applicable laws, and common sense to iron out problems if they arise. He said he expects that his experience in Kingsford will serve him well in St. Ignace, as the communities are similar in some ways. He plans for even enforcement of the city’s policies, treating everyone the same, although taking note of special additional factors like age, when applicable.

Mr. Stelmaszek subscribed to The St. Ignace News for six months in the lead-up to his interviews to better inform himself on issues in the city and community, and advocates transparency in releasing information to the public.

Mr. Stelmaszek expects that his first month on the job will involve working with outgoing City Manager Les Therrian and meeting all of the city’s employees as he works to develop a rapport with them. He wants to learn about what is important in the role and expects he will have to work harder in the first months as he does so, coming early or staying late when needed. He believes he will also need to improve his computer skills.

When asked during the second interview about ways that the city could be improved, he said he would like to improve its residential areas. He is pleased with the work of the St. Ignace Downtown Development Authority, calling it a good use of captured revenues. He wants to communicate with the public to tackle blight, once in office, adding more bite to local ordinances on the topic and launching a campaign to inform people about the city’s rules on the topic.

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