City manager search continues amid financial emergency

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – Elected officials hesitated to approve a new city manager after Joe Merucci gave notice that he would vacate the position by month’s end. Mayor Thomas Karnes said that last week’s deadlocked 3-3 vote – which nullified the appointment of candidate Robert Cady – indicated that additional time and thought were needed for the decision.

“They wanted to do more of a search,” Karnes said. “He’s still a candidate, but at least three of the council wanted to see additional candidates.”

Karnes said the reluctance was understandable given the transitional state of city hall in the wake of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s formal declaration that a financial emergency exists, and that a consent agreement is currently being drafted for approval by state and city officials.

Prior to Monday’s City Council meeting, Merucci confirmed the long-expected news that he would soon leave the position to assume the city manager post in Wayne. The council had interviewed only Cady for the job the day of the council meeting, and didn’t produce a majority vote.

Karnes said the hesitation was not a lack of confidence in Cady or his abilities: Cady is currently assistant city manager and controller in Roseville, with experience including service in Trenton, Melvindale and Riverview.

“He has a financial background, I have faith in him,” Karnes said. “We’ll see what happens with other candidates.”

City council last week approved to continue a search through the Michigan Municipal League for another week. Any applicants likely will be interviewed this week with hopes of confirming an appointment at the next regular council meeting.

The city manager position has been, Karnes said, in a “period of transition” for some time. Cady was among the top candidates in late 2011 when city officials paid the MML $10,000 to search for a professional, full-time manager, a position that had sat vacant in the past.

“There were six people up for interviews,” Karnes said. “Mr. Cady had at that point been hired by Roseville so he pulled his name out.”

Greg Capote had been hired to fill the post previously held by Steve Duchane, and served for seven months before council declined to renew his contract. The office was again empty before Merucci was hired in April 2013.

Karnes said that hiring a city manager while officials negotiate a consent agreement remains a necessary task. After consulting with members of the state financial review panel, Karnes said the position will begin with an eight-month contract.

“They’re good with it,” Karnes said. “In my mind it’s imperative to have someone who can step in while we go through the consent decree.”

Last month city council voted to pursue a consent agreement with the state, which had confirmed that the city is in a financial emergency. That option – one of four that included acceptance of a state-appointed emergency manager – will allow city officials to retain authority over financial decisions, which will then be approved by Michigan financial supervisors.

Karnes said that, in spite of the unsettling thought of state oversight, signs of progress continue. Public safety command officers reached a tentative agreement with the city that, if approved Monday, will save the city between $150,000 and $200,000 per year. Negotiations continue with patrol officers, and steps toward resolving the anticipated $1 million budget deficit continue.

“As we’re going along these things are falling into place,” Karnes said. “We’ll work with the terms of the consent agreement – whatever they will be – and get us back on track.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)