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One step closer: Marquette City Commission conducts manager interviews; candidate could be selected today

Marquette City Commission conducts manager interviews; candidate could be selected today

MARQUETTE — The city of Marquette is one step closer to hiring its next city manager after conducting public interviews with six finalists on Saturday.

Current Marquette City Manager Mike Angeli’s successor could be decided as soon as today, with the commission slated to hold a special meeting beginning at 5:15 p.m. to discuss the potential selection. Angeli is set to retire June 1.

The city received 40 applicants for the position in the initial search phase, which was conducted by Walsh Municipal Services LLC of downstate Okemos. The six finalists were selected at the April 12 commission meeting, three weeks prior to the public interview phase, which took place Saturday.

The six finalists, in the order they were interviewed, are Sean Hobbins, assistant city manager for the city of Marquette; Richard Downey, village administrator for the village of Kronenwetter, Wisconsin; Gary Simpson, chief financial officer for the city of Marquette; Dan Stoltman, town manager for the town of Kremmling, Colorado; John Kramer, director of operations for the Fox Valley Park District in Aurora, Illinois; and Karen Kovacs, city administrator for the downstate city of Milan.

Each interview went for around an hour, with each finalist answering 20 of the same questions posed by the commission. The finalists received 2¢ minutes to respond to each question.

One of the questions, asked by Commissioner Cody Mayer, was: “It is now 2026, you have served as our city manager for 5 years, looking back, what does a record of success include for you? Please share with us what you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years.”

Each candidate’s response to the question is listed in the order they were interviewed.

Hobbins: “I think a record of success, personally, would be taking on the position, learning and growing with it. Really being somebody that the commission can look to for guidance, can rely upon for strong policy recommendations and management of the city. I think in terms of big projects, the redevelopment of the Cliffs-Dow property is a huge one, and it’s been a nut we’ve been trying to crack for many years. I think we are getting closer to it, but I think that’s something that needs to be accomplished within the next 5 years. I think making the redevelopment of the hospital a priority — to the best of our ability as a city government can with a privately owned piece of land — I think that would be a good personal measurement of success. Just continuing the city on a responsible, financial path forward. Taking care of resident needs at our current level or even better, and then taking the time to look forward to the future and plan for the future. If we have all of those things going on within the next 5 years, and we’re set up for the following 5 years, that would be my measurement of success.”

Downey: “My initial days are going to be me reaching out to you folks (the commission), and then reaching out to your committees and commissions and boards, and then also reaching out to the stakeholders. I’ve already talked to both Mr. (Gar) Atchinson (UP Health System – Marquette CEO) and Mr. (Fritz) Erickson (Northern Michigan University president). Initially getting to kind of know where people are and to kind of find out what the culture is. If I said to you that I’m going to come in and I’m going to do this big project and stuff like that, –and I didn’t say that initially — what I’m saying to you is that you’re not qualified, and that’s not very fair to you. If I come in and say I want to listen and find out what you’ve got for ideas first, and try to incorporate them, that’s where I’m going. That’s my initial attack.

“Then, it would be a matter of probably looking at the Cliffs-Dow property. That’s probably a next step to see where that is and make sure it moves forward. Let’s take that as one of the projects I’ll have worked on. Maybe a partnership with local stakeholders on a housing initiative. Maybe it’s two or five houses or something of that nature, where it’s a small build first. If I said we were going to do 200, that’s honestly more fantasy than anything else. Then, 5 years would be things of financial reporting and continuing those types of things, the plans to making sure you know where all of your things are of that nature.

“If you said you were 5 years into the future and you were looking at what I’ve done, he came in, he listened to us, he worked on the big projects, the housing, the brownfield, maybe did some small stuff with economic development and other things. And then made sure the good things we’ve already got going, planning for the (capital improvement plan), the staff that’s really qualified, the interaction with the public, that openness, that we’ve kept that going. I think that’s where I would go.”

Simpson: “Hopefully it’s not people with pitchforks and torches at my doorstep, that’s No. 1. I would be happy if people didn’t even know I was the city manager. I don’t want the job to be about me. It’s not about my ego, it’s not about me. I want the city to be successful, and I want people to be proud of that success. I don’t even care if they know who I am or anything, I just want them to see the city of Marquette is successful in everything we do.

“Right now, myself personally and my department, we’re creating best practices that are followed all over the country, and I want the city to do that. I don’t want us to just follow best practices, I want us to create best practices in everything we do. I’m very success oriented, I don’t accept failure very well and if we do fail, I take it very personally and I do everything I can to see that we learned from that and we move forward.

“I want the city to be financially vibrant, I want people to love to come to Marquette. Tourism is a very big industry for us and I want to keep that happening. I want people to move here. I want people to make Marquette their life. I want Elon Musk to come here and build a big Tesla battery factory right here in Marquette. I think we can get there — maybe Elon Musk won’t come here — but I think we can get those types of things going on.

“I’m excited at the prospects. I think we’re just at the cusp of what we can accomplish and we’ve got to keep moving forward and we’ve got to keep moving in the same direction. And we have to get partners involved and our partners love us. That’s the best thing, all the time I hear ‘Gary, how can we help?’ and it’s just a unique attitude, because believe me, I’ve worked at places where they saw you coming and they were hiding under their desk. That’s what I would like. I want the city to be very vibrant, I want it to continue to be friendly, I want people to be here, I want us to have so many jobs, I want our children to stay here so our parents aren’t sad, there’s just so many things.

“Basically, I just want Marquette to be the place to be and everybody knows us and everybody wants to be here because of everything we’re doing.”

Stoltman: “I think there’s some obvious ones in there based on the projects you currently have going on. I don’t think you’ll be able to fix housing completely in 5 years, but you can start to make good efforts towards that. I’d like to see some progress in that. Continuing to make sure the lakeshore is restored and doesn’t continue to erode. The brownfield, of course you need to get that developed, whether it’s in private, or if that doesn’t work out, then what can we do on the public side of that.

“I think another very interesting thing in the next 5 years is the old hospital. I don’t believe the city necessarily has a stake in the old hospital itself, however a building of that size, the longer it sits vacant, the harder and harder it’s going to be to be redeveloped. If it continues to dilapidate, it almost becomes cost prohibitive. If that doesn’t get dealt with, whether we’re just here to help facilitate and help to reach out, I think something needs to be done with that before it becomes a blighted problem in the middle of the city.

“Other areas are just infrastructure projects, I know roads are an issue everywhere. I think it’s important those continue to move forward, whether it’s full reconstruction, or we’ve had good experience with chip sealing, the roads can be saved. I think that’s a good economical way to preserve things for 10 or 15 years down the road. For the roads, make sure we continue to show progress each year.

“Cliffs-Dow, if something happens there, of course (that) would be a good sign of success. Having interest in the hospital building, a sign of success there would be to have a convention center there. The hospital would be a great spot for that and I think the city would do quite well to have that large convention center to bring in people from downstate or other states to have their conferences, and that gives us an opportunity to showcase our city.”

Kramer: “A record of success would be stability. I think that’s the most important thing in working for several public agencies through my career. The best times I’ve had is when there’s been stability. And I don’t mean just from the standpoint of that there weren’t trying times, but that the manager was able to keep stability throughout all of those times.

“I think that at the end of 5 years, I would look back and make sure that anyone who was my direct report had clear direction — ultimately had the necessary items to provide good constituent services, ultimately their responsibilities were clearly defined — and they understood at the end of the day where they stood not only with me, but also relative to the city. At the end of 5 years, that’s what I would look for as a success barometer.”

Kovacs: “You have a great master plan laid out that has a few things that need to be touched on soon in order to remain timely with that. Looking back at what would be considered accomplishments, I think many of you have asked the questions on some of the big ticket items such as the Cliffs-Dow property, the housing developments and housing issues that remain and preserving our lakeshore.

“I think something I would be able to look back on is progress and seeing movement forward. That doesn’t mean you have to be completely done with a project or a development, but it means progress. It doesn’t mean everyone’s always going to be happy 100 percent of the time either. I think that as long as there’s discussion, I feel like that’s a sign of success, and that’s a sign of moving forward. I would really like to see some movement.

“I understand there’s been many developers that have talked about the Cliffs-Dow property and looking at that, but having something really start getting in writing and moving forward would be something I would really like to see. Having full commission meetings is sometimes a sign of progress and having some very full and vibrant meetings would be something I would look forward to.”

Other questions asked at Saturday’s interview session included “Looking back at your professional career, please share your proudest moment,” “Teamwork is key to effective governance, could you please share with us a few examples of your time and when you went above and beyond to foster teamwork in one of your previous organizations?” and “Every project does not turn out the way we planned it to, can you share a project or an issue that you worked on that did not reach the results you intended?”

Other questions touched on topics that included volunteer work outside of the office, experience in managing public access locations such as the Lake Superior shoreline, responding to citizen complaints and the local housing crisis.

After the 7-hour day of interviews, several commissioners expressed their satisfaction with the candidate pool.

“I think this was a great meeting that we just had here,” Mayer said. “I think that regardless of who we do pick, that the city of Marquette will be in good hands and I think that we have a lot of great candidates to pick from. I’m looking forward and I’m very excited for that conversation.”

“I am very pleased that we have the pool of candidates that we do,” Commissioner Sally Davis added. “It’s been a long day, it’s given us lots to think about, and it will be interesting on Tuesday.”

Commissioner Jessica Hanley reiterated those comments.

“I would just like to say that I’m honored to be apart of a search such as this,” she said. “This is most likely one of the biggest decisions I will make as a commissioner, to help pick the person who’s leading the city in a way. It’s wonderful to see that no matter who we choose, we are going to come out ahead. These were all great candidates and it’s great to see we have so many options.”

The full interview session from Saturday can be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/4eLisrTkW-U.

Should the commission not make a selection at tonight’s special meeting, further action will be decided upon by the commission. The meeting begins at 5:15 p.m. and can be viewed live at www.youtube.com/CityofMarquetteGov.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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