New AP city administrator: ‘I thought I could help’

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – From a failed movie studio to the decision to issue – and later rescind – layoff notices to its entire Fire Department, the city has seen its share of controversy over the past year.

But for new City Administrator John Zech, who took the position Aug. 25, the city’s struggles were part of what coaxed him out of retirement and onto the city council dias.

“I view myself as someone who can help fix things, can help straighten them out.” Zech 62, said. “I knew it would be a challenge. But I thought perhaps I could come over and be of some help.”

During his contract, which councilors extended until the November general election, Zech said he intends to lend his fix-it skills to the city’s finances, helping to finalize budgets for water and sewer and solid waste, which were left incomplete with this year’s budget, adopted July 1.

He also hopes to retune the current budget to reduce expenses after a recent Plante & Moran audit showed the city was losing $350,000 a month.

Zech said his main goal is to make sure the new council after the election will not face tough budgetary decisions as the “first thing on their plate.

“I think we’ll be able to accomplish some things,” Zech said. “It’s going to be a long road, but you have to take your first step. And we’re taking the first step.”

Originally from Detroit, Zech said he’s always been interested in helping to develop cities that have “drifted in the wrong direction.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Detroit then went on to seek a master’s degree in public administration from Ohio State University while working as a community relations representative for the city of Columbus.

As his responsibilities and workload increased, he said school was relegated to the back burner and he dropped out a few credits shy of his degree, a decision he said he still regrets.

“It just was too much on my plate.” Zech said. “Something had to give. But I enjoyed the work.”

He then worked for the cities of Plymouth and later Wayne, where he was city manager for 18 years and still resides. He retired in December 2010, but said he was convinced to leave his first-ever sabbatical after city officials presented him with the opportunity after former City Administrator David Tamsen stepped down last month to become city attorney.

He said he immediately liked Mayor Felice Lalli, but an interview with most of the council convinced him the job was right for him.

“I know Allen Park had some issues earlier this year,” Zech said. “But … they were very honest and open about the issues and I gave them honest answers about what I thought I could do.”

Though his position is only to last until the election, Zech said he’s confident he can make a difference while he’s there.

“I’ll try to help with the budget,” Zech said. “What happens in November, when the people speak, the people speak and we’ll take it from there.”