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Peterson quits in Negaunee

City manager gives 90-day notice after contentious session with city council over spending

January 15, 2010
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

NEGAUNEE - Following a heated nearly four-hour meeting, another west end city will be searching for a new city manager.

Negaunee Manager Gerald Peterson verbally gave the city council notice that he would be leaving the city at the council's regular meeting Thursday evening.

"I'm giving you my 90-day notice. I'm not going to put up with this crap. I'm giving you officially notice. I'm not going to continue my contract because I'm not going to put up with these games," Peterson told the council at the end of the meeting.

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"I'm a contractor and I came here to work and provide," Peterson said. "It's clear that the environment isn't going to work like that. And I'm not going to work for this group. It's as clear as that."

In the council's meetings since the November election, conflict has cropped up between Peterson and newly elected council members, who have now voted against several long-standing city projects.

In December, new council members Michael Haines, Michael Van Straten and Diana Menhennick, along with Councilman Richard Wills, voted to turn down more than $500,000 grant money for Phase IA of the Croix Street reconstruction project to retain $142,500 in grant matches in the city's general fund.

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At Thursday's meeting, the council also voted to not submit a grant application to the Safe Routes to School Program, a pilot program the city and the Negaunee Public Schools have been working on for several months. The grant would have fully funded work on city streets and intersections to make it safer for kids to walk to school amounting to close to $300,000. The city and school district would have been required to pay for engineering costs amounting to around $17,000, at a cost of $10,000 to the city.

The motion to deny the grant application was made by Wills, seconded by Menhennick, with Councilman Paul Maino and Mayor Paul Gravedoni voting "no."

"There's not the amount of pedestrian traffic at the Lakeview School," Van Straten said. "You don't have the traffic to warrant that type of expenditure."

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The Safe Routes to School program is designed to increase the number of children walking to school. Haines asked for a more specific breakdown of how the engineering costs would be split between the city and the school district to be brought to the next council meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Negaunee Senior Center.

Conflict also came up during discussion of the city's monthly cash inflow and outflow for 2009, detailed in a spreadsheet provided for council members in their monthly packets.

"As we look at March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, you will find that every single month the city of Negaunee has run in the red in considerable amounts of money," Haines said, highlighting the ending figure that showed the 2009 budget to be $601,429 in the red. "You're going to find that your city is approaching bankruptcy and it's approaching it rapidly."

Haines argued that a more conservative spending policy was necessary to give the city financial stability.

"You ask where is the money going to go? It's going to go to the general fund so that you have a functioning city next year," he said. "We're in the position right now of having a city that's in financial chaos."

Peterson, however, countered that the larger expenditures were approved by the council to accomplish capital projects like the Croix Street project.

"I think this is a ridiculous discussion from my view. I think there's a real lack of understanding of how the city budget works and what the funds are. What you see in terms of the cash flow here are all of the city funds, not the general fund. There is no question the funds have been drawn down, but the council approved that," Peterson said. "Clearly you don't agree with where I'm going. I think you're making huge mistakes for this community."

A rift between the members of the council was apparent at the meeting, with Wills joining Menhennick, Van Straten and Haines on one side and Maino and Gravedoni on the other.

"I can't believe how badly the city's getting screwed over the past two meetings. I don't blame the city manager for leaving," Maino said during the meeting.

Gravedoni agreed.

"If it was the objective of the city council's newly elected people to come here and run the manager off, you were successful," Gravedoni said. "It only took two meetings. If you were here as you purport to be - sitting here with your bare faces hanging out saying you were elected to do such and such for the job of the city - I fail to see it.

"I have worked for six city managers in this city. The best city manager that ever set his feet in the city of Negaunee was Mr. Peterson," Gravedoni said. "I think it's shameful. I just don't have the words to express nor some of the words I wouldn't want out on the television for what has happened this meeting."



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