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City of Marquette selects Kovacs as next manager

Contract negotiations to begin

KOVACS

MARQUETTE — The city of Marquette has selected Karen Kovacs as its next city manager.

The Marquette City Commission voted 7-0 at its regular meeting Monday night to make an offer of employment to Kovacs, the lone finalist for the position after John Kramer of Aurora, Illinois, withdrew his name from consideration last week.

Kovacs is currently the city administrator for downstate Milan, a city of 5,800 people in Washtenaw and Monroe counties, a role she’s held since July 2019. Previously, she served as the finance director and treasurer for Milan for almost four years.

Before her stints with Milan, Kovacs was employed as a governmental accounting professional consultant for Plante & Moran PLLC. She graduated with an accounting degree and a minor in applied technology in business from Oakland University.

The commission also motioned to form a subcommittee consisting of three city commissioners to negotiate contract details with Kovacs, a method used in past city manager hiring processes. The subcommittee, appointed by Mayor Jenna Smith, consists of commissioners Fred Stonehouse, Sally Davis and Cody Mayer. The trio is made up of the same subcommittee appointed in December to formulate a search process.

Once a mutually acceptable contract for employment is agreed upon, it will come back to the commission for consideration and final approval at its May 24 regular meeting.

The commission expressed praise for Kovacs with the firm belief that she’s the right person for the job.

“I would like to assure our mayor, my fellow commissioners and the community that I’m in full support of this offer of employment, and should our negotiations come to fruition, that I fully support the transition for a fully functioning city commission,” Davis said.

“I would just add that we had a lot of great candidates and I think we did a great job with the candidate that we’re hopefully moving forward with pending negotiations,” Mayer added. “I hope that Karen can come and start working with us real soon.”

Commissioner Evan Bonsall and Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Hill commented on the national search process as a whole. The search began in February with Walsh Municipal Services LLC guiding the city through the process. The city received more than 40 applicants for the position. The applicant pool was then narrowed down to six finalists who were offered public interviews.

“I think that we’ve gone through a really well designed and well-thought-out process to get to this point,” Bonsall said. “We got an incredibly deep and talented pool of candidates that we narrowed down to six, and it was incredibly challenging to choose between those six, because they were all incredibly qualified. But I think that we’ve got the right person for the job in Ms. Kovacs, and I’m looking forward to hopefully welcoming her to our community.”

The five other finalists under consideration with Kovacs were Richard Downey, village administrator for the village of Kronenwetter, Wisconsin; Sean Hobbins, assistant city manager for the city of Marquette; Gary Simpson, chief financial officer for the city of Marquette; Dan Stoltman, town manager for the town of Kremmling, Colorado; and Kramer, director of operations for the Fox Valley Park District in Aurora, Illinois.

“Sometimes, sitting on this side of the table, when you’re the person choosing and getting to hire, to hear the passion and commitment and the incredible experience of the folks who stepped forward and offered to lead our community, it’s in some ways really humbling,” Hill added. “I want to, again, thank those folks for taking the time. The work that they’ve done for the communities they’ve been in and the work they’re going to do into the future, I really want to thank them and I’m looking forward to working with Ms. Kovacs.”

Frank Walsh, president of Walsh Municipal Services and lead consultant for the city throughout the search process, said he received seven references for Kovacs during the search process, all current or former colleagues, including Milan Mayor Dominic Hamden.

“A great ambassador, did great work with the Ford Lake boardwalk project and our difficult splash pad project,” Hamden said of Kovacs. “She helped us get it right.”

“His final two words for the community of Marquette and specifically the city commission: hire Karen,” Walsh added on behalf of Hamden. “Although we’re really going to miss our ‘point guard,’ she’d be a terrific leader for your community,” Hamden said.

After the commission made its unanimous vote of confidence, Kovacs thanked the commissioners, city staff and other city officials for their consideration.

“I cannot express how much of an honor this is to be considered for this great opportunity to serve as your next city manager,” she said. “It was not an easy decision to leave Milan, but I’m leaving for an absolutely wonderful opportunity in a wonderful city. I can tell that there’s some big shoes to fill with the retirement of City Manager Mike Angeli, and I certainly admire and appreciate the time and the thorough process that you (Mayor Smith) and the commission have taken to make this decision. I understand that there were so many qualified candidates and I admire each and every one of them.

“I look forward to working with all of the departments and the staff and you as the commission to continue this great progress and this momentum going forward that’s already started. Thank you for this opportunity, and I cannot wait to get started, to work, and to be in such a beautiful and bright community.”

Smith thanked the 40-plus applicants the city received, and praised Kovacs as a strong candidate to replace Angeli, who’s retiring June 1 after more than 45 years of service to the city, including six years serving as city manager.

“I really do appreciate the over 40 applicants we had for this critical position in the city of Marquette,” Smith said. “As for Ms. Kovacs, when I reviewed her experience and her finance background, I just saw her as a really strong candidate. She came into the interview, she impressed me very much and I know that she and her family want to be here in Marquette.”

Smith also read an excerpt from Kovacs’ cover letter.

“I have a respect for history, enthusiasm for community, and I understand the importance of revitalization,” the cover letter read. “I have the passion to promote Marquette’s urban offerings while keeping the feel of small-town charm. I feel a piece of my heart has always belonged in the Upper Peninsula and I cannot express enough that I would be delighted to call Marquette home.”

Kovacs will assume control of a city facing many exciting projects and challenges ahead, such as the ongoing Lakeshore Boulevard restoration project, the affordable housing crisis, the former UP Health System – Marquette property.

Kovacs will also be working with the first female-majority commission in the city’s history. In the early stages of the search process, Walsh outlined it as a priority to get more women involved with municipal government and also find a diverse pool of candidates.

Angeli has requested the commission approve Hobbins as the interim city manager at its next regular meeting on May 24, depending on the amount of time Kovacs needs to step into her new role.

As for the outgoing city manager, he kept his advice to Kovacs short and to the point.

“The other thing I want to say to Karen directly is ‘Don’t screw this up,'” Angeli quirked. “I got plans.”

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