New city manager sees challenge, potential

Photo by James Mitchell. City Manager Matthew Coppler settled into his City Hall office last week with eyes on a post-emergency management Lincoln Park. Coppler will continue to work with a state transition panel after the anticipated January departure of Emergency Manager Brad Coulter.

Photo by James Mitchell. City Manager Matthew Coppler settled into his City Hall office last week with eyes on a post-emergency management Lincoln Park. Coppler will continue to work with a state transition panel after the anticipated January departure of Emergency Manager Brad Coulter.

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – Just over a year ago, the city’s financial stability was declared an “emergency” by the state, but newly-appointed City Manager Matt Coppler said his initial impressions were more optimistic.

“There’s nothing I’ve seen that isn’t fixable,” Coppler said. “There’s a good city council, a good staff and a good community here. Everything is on the right track.”

Coppler assumed his duties last week after being appointed in July to the position, the first full-time manager for the city since the departure of Joe Merucci in 2014. Shortly after Merucci’s one-year tenure the city was declared to be in financial distress, and last year saw the state appointment of Emergency Manager Brad Coulter.

Since then efforts to erase what had grown to be a $5 million deficit have shown progress, although officials said much hard work remains, and Coulter’s tenure is expected to end by January.

Coppler had most recently served as town manager of Enfield, Conn., and has been a city or village manager for more than 20 years in communities in Ohio, New York and Connecticut. Coppler reportedly will be paid about $125,000 annually to steer Lincoln Park into a new era of stability and growth.

Coulter said Coppler has already attended planning sessions including Monday’s debut meeting of a revitalizing committee.
“The residents understand our situation,” Coulter said. “There’s no disagreement that we need more police, that we have issues with equipment, roads and retiree obligations.”

Coppler understood the challenges when he accepted the position, and said there are avenues to be explored for continuing the city’s rise out of deficit. A Public Act ballot question in November will seek voter approval of funding to help public safety and retirement obligations, and that the city will have to make use of available resources across all departments and fields.

“The challenge of revitalization is to understand what is and isn’t possible, and to get the community to rally around it,” Coppler said. “Whatever happened in the past, the reality is it happened, and energies are better spent on how to bring about community improvement.”

Even after Coulter’s scheduled departure in January, the city will continue reporting to state treasury officials who will monitor expenditures and budgets, and Coppler will report to a transition panel while the five-year emergency management period remains active.

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