Thornton no longer candidate for Escanaba city manager

ESCANABA — Escanaba’s candidate for the city’s next manager — chosen six weeks ago pending a background check — may no longer be considered to replace City Manager Jim O’Toole, who is retiring in July, according to an announcement made by the city’s negotiating team Tuesday.

A recommendation to not hire Jeffery Thornton — council’s choice for the city’s top administrative position — will be among the agenda items at Thursday’s regular council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at city hall.

The news release stated the negotiating team met Tuesday and will be recommending at Thursday’s council meeting that Thornton “be removed from further consideration for the position of city manager.” The news release concluded by thanking Thornton for his participation in the interview and selection process.

Mayor Marc Tall, a member of the negotiating team, declined this morning to comment on the announcement and said the recommendation will be discussed at council’s meeting on Thursday.

City Attorney Ralph “B.K.” Peterson told the Daily Press this morning the negotiating team met with Thornton a couple times and that a background check on him was the main road block in the team’s decision to recommended council no longer consider him for the city manager position.

“They (council) could decide to direct the negotiating team to go forward with Jeff Thornton or they could decide they should look elsewhere and what the process is going to be,” said Peterson, suggesting council could consider other applicants or start the hiring process over.

Following interviews of three final candidates for the job on March 21, council unanimously agreed the next day to hire Thornton, 50, of Negaunee, to become the new city manager, pending a background check. A total of 51 candidates had applied for the position.

In April, a negotiating team made up of Mayor Tall, Mayor Pro Tem Ron Beauchamp, and City Attorney Ralph “BK” Peterson began meeting with Thornton to create a contract agreement.

In the meantime, Thornton was also attending city council meetings, annual budget sessions, and city events to familiarize himself with the city.

Thornton had served as city manager in Negaunee from March 2011 to February 2016. He has experience in budgeting and financial planning, labor negotiations, electrical power planning, public works and utility management, and planning and zoning administration.

Thornton has also been an active member in the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees and the Upper Peninsula Municipal Managers Association.

O’Toole is retiring on July 3 after working 29 years as a city employee including the past decade he’s served as city manager.

O’Toole began working for Escanaba as a seasonal worker in the engineering department in the spring of 1988. He was later hired as a part-time housing inspector and in July of 1990 he was promoted to full time. He later took on the position of the city’s community preservation director.

In August 2006, O’Toole was hired as Escanaba’s interim city manager when council appointed him to replace Doug Terry who had resigned earlier that month. Seven months later in March 2007, council hired him on permanently, reinstating his contract each year since then.