Escanaba council selects Thornton as city manager

Jeff Thornton, former Negaunee city manager, was recently selected for the same position in Escanaba.

ESCANABA — Jeff Thornton, former Negaunee city manager, was chosen Wednesday to replace current Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole, who is retiring in July. Council’s unanimous decision took place at a special meeting at city hall.

Thornton, 50, said he is looking forward to working with city staff and department heads, including some he had talked with prior to his interview with council Tuesday evening.

Thornton was among three final candidates who were questioned by council during a special public meeting at city hall. The other two candidates were Darcy Long of Amery, Wis., and William Yost of L’Anse.

The three men were selected from a pool of 51 applicants seeking the administrative position, which has been held by Escanaba native O’Toole for the past decade.

Thornton’s job experience includes serving as city manager in Negaunee from March 2011 to February 2016. His background includes experience in budgeting and financial planning, labor negotiations, electrical power planning, public works and utility management, and planning and zoning administration.

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

In an interview with the Daily Press following council’s decision Wednesday, Thornton said he is looking forward to working for the city, but he is not out to change the world.

Thornton said money is a big issue for Escanaba — specifically the lack of state revenue, which has been cut over the years. Due to less funding, municipalities have been forced to try to maintain services with less money, he said.

Thornton briefly mentioned the promising economic development efforts going on in the city, the need to keep youth here by giving them a reason to stay, and continuing to enhance recreational opportunities the city has to offer.

“I’m thankful to council for offering me the opportunity to serve the citizens of Escanaba,” said Thornton, also expressing gratitude to individuals who wished him luck when he talked with people at local businesses in the community.

Thornton said he and his family are looking forward to moving to Escanaba. He and his wife, Staci, have been married 20 years and have an 8-year-old daughter, Addi. Staci currently runs the middle school kitchen in the Negaunee Public Schools. She is also a Girl Scout leader.

“My family is very civic-orientated … and involved in the community,” he added.

Thorton said one of the biggest attributes he will be bringing to Escanaba is his ability to communicate with others.

“I’m very approachable. I listen. I love to communicate and learn from people,” he said, adding he wants to know as much about the city as soon as he can and plans to learn from O’Toole during a transition period.

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