Negaunee continues search for city manager candidate

Negaunee Planning Commissioner Jon Becker, right, addresses the Negaunee City Council during public comment on Thursday. Becker raised several issues, including concerns over the way the search for a new city manager has been handled. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

NEGAUNEE — A six-month search for a new city manager in Negaunee has yet to yield any qualified candidates — largely due to an issue with charter language.

Police Chief and Interim City Manger Jay Frusti told the Negaunee City Council at its regular meeting on Thursday that nine more applications had been received but none met current city charter requirements.

“We are still looking at zero qualified applicants,” Frusti said.

According to charter language regarding council appointment of a city manager, the individual “shall have had training and experience in municipal administration and actual experience as a city manager.”

Mayor Don Gladwell asked city staff to contact the Harding Group LLC, the consulting firm hired by the council in April to find candidates for the position, to continue the search.

“We are all in agreement that we want to continue with the city manager search the way that we are doing,” Gladwell said.

During public comment, Planning Commissioner Jon Becker voiced concerns about the time it was taking to replace former City Manager Jeff Thornton, whose last day with the city was March 9.

“I am here to tell you how deeply disappointed I am, first of all, in terms of the city manager position … You have violated the city charter yet again by failing to hire a replacement within six months,” Becker said. “It does not say you ‘may’ it says you ‘shall’ replace the city manager within six months.”

Becker questioned the expense of bringing three candidates to the city in August to interview before the council, knowing they did not have the experience expressly required by charter language.

“This is also in the city charter — that he must have city manager experience,” Becker said. “You brought three candidates in to the tune of who knows how much, knowing that you can’t hire them. Or you should have known you can’t hire them.”

Councilman Jason Wallner said the council is working to do the right thing, after being given misinformation at the start of the process.

“This council is taking every possible precaution to cross the t’s and dot the i’s and we follow the charter language as it is read,” Wallner said.

Several members of the city manager search ad-hoc committee asked the former city attorney in March how the current charter language should be interpreted, Wallner said.

“The ad hoc committee comprised of myself, Councilman (David) Kangas and Councilman (Toby) Smith and other members of the staff at that time did address this issue,” Wallner said. “The guidance we were given at that time was that it could be ‘bent to a degree.'”

Although it will not affect the current efforts to fill the position, the council took steps to amend the manager qualifications section of the city charter.

Council members voted unanimously to adopt the removal of the phrase “as a city manager” from charter language and replace it with “and shall be appointed solely on the basis of their executive and or administrative and or professional qualifications.”

City Attorney Jeremy Pickens said the process to change charter language could take several months or longer.

“The governor’s office would review it and sign off on it, if appropriate. That could take anywhere from a month to three months,” Pickens said. “Once the governor signs off on it, then there has to be a 12 week period for it to be placed on the ballot. So realistically, unless the city is going to pay for a special election, the next primary–August, maybe, but November more likely.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.