NEGAUNEE - The Negaunee City Council is formally on its way to searching for a new city manager.
The resignation of current manager Gerald Peterson was accepted by the council Thursday night after being received as a written letter dated Feb. 4, 2010. Peterson gave verbal notice of his resignation at the council's Jan. 14 meeting but, per his contract, had to give written notice.
Attitudes regarding the resignation continue to be mixed, both on the part of the council and the community.
The resignation of City Manager Gerald Peterson, which the council received in writing on Feb. 4, continued to draw a range of comments at Thursday’s Negaunee City Council meeting. Here, Negaunee resident Dawn Schuhknecht voiced her concerns over the way Peterson has worked as city manager. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
A request for the resignation to be added to the agenda was submitted to Mayor Paul Gravedoni in writing by Councilmen Michael Haines, Michael Van Straten and Richard Wills. The motion to approve of the resignation was made by Councilwoman Diana Menhennick.
"This is a very difficult thing for me, especially for me, because I was hoping we could all find a middle ground. It's obvious that the community is very divided, and this has to be done for the healing process," Menhennick said.
Both council and public comment tended to be either fully supportive or fully against Peterson.
"I simply have no confidence in Mr. Peterson... as contract manager for the city," Van Straten said.
"I think the product that we've gotten out of Mr. Peterson has been incredible. I think the progress this city has made in the last five years has been incredible. I would love to see Mr. Peterson stay until the end of his contract, which is Dec. 31 of this year. I'll be amazed if this city has a city manager in place that this entire council and this community can approve of by the end of his contract," Councilman Peter Dompierre said.
The motion to approve the resignation passed 4-3, with Gravedoni, Maino and Dompierre voting "no."
"I feel like I've got a hostile environment with several of the councilmembers here and certainly members of the community. I do think, though, that I'm trying to identify for the community the challenges it has, and I don't think those are well recognized by the community, the employees," Peterson said.
Peterson did, however, agree with Menhennick that it was necessary for him to leave the city.
"I would agree with Councilwoman Menhennick's position that the community does need to have some healing and that this does need to happen. I am not looking to try to hold on to something here. I do think the community needs to come up with a plan, a vision, a mission that you can all agree on," he said.
The council voted, again by a 4-3 vote, to appoint Gerald Koski, head of the city's electrical department, as interim manager when Peterson leaves office.
The motion, made by Councilman Richard Wills, originally called for Koski to immediately take the post of city manager with Peterson remaining as an adviser.
That motion, however, would have violated both Peterson's contract and the city charter, as pointed out by City Attorney Caroline Bridges, and was changed to have Koski step in 91 days after Peterson's written notice of resignation.
A previous motion by Gravedoni to appoint Department of Public Works Superintendent Dan Czarnecki as interim manager failed 3-4, with Haines,
Wills, Van Straten and Menhennick voting no.
Peterson cautioned the council, as he has at other meetings, of the difficult decisions they will be unable to put off in the coming months.
"The community has to support the tough decisions you're going to be making. You're going to be making unpopular decisions, whether it's this year, the next year, the year after. It's based on financial necessity," he said.
With the council clearly divided, Gravedoni said he saw "some very trying times ahead."
"We have a divided council and somehow both sides have to work for all the citizens of Negaunee," he said.
In other action, the council voted to approve the request for qualifications for further improvements to Miners Park, including pavilion upgrades, construction of a permanent bathroom facility, new sidewalk along Maas Street and a drinking fountain.
The council also voted to reapply for grant funding for the new Jackson Park, which the city narrowly missed receiving in late 2009.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.