Finalists for Mount Pleasant’s city manager position introduced themselves to residents and business owners Monday during a special session before the City Commission’s regular meeting.
Robert Bruner, Pete Olson and interim city manager Nancy Ridley were available to the public, giving interested residents a chance to ask questions, feel out the candidates and hear from them on why they want job.
Nearly 50 people showed up to meet the candidates, a group mostly made up of other city officials, employees and residents.
Each candidate was also offered five minutes to make a formal introduction in front of commissioners and their would-be constituents.
Below are what each candidate said in their five minute addresses.
Interviews for each candidate are scheduled from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. today.
What they said
Bruner – who currently serves as Mount Clemens interim city manager – said nabbing the manager’s position will help he and his wife establish a steady home for their daughter as she enters the 2nd grade next year.
“One of the things I like about Mount Pleasant is the relative stability you’ve had in the manager’s office,” Bruner said. “I would like my next opportunity to be one where we could potentially stay until she graduates high school.”
Bruner has held multiple city manager positions in Michigan, including an assistant city manager position in Ypsilanti, home of Eastern Michigan University.
“Like Mount Pleasant, Ypsilanti is a college town,” he said. “It’s a good ole Michigan city, and I met my life in an Ypsilanti city council meeting. Fortunately the interim city manager position has offered us with the financial flexibility to be choosy about where we go next.”
Bruner said the things that attract him to Mount Pleasant as a home are also things that attract him to the job of running it: A good school system, a walkable community with a downtown area and “relatively affordable housing.”
While his resume touts a vast experience in city government, Bruner has only worked in each position for four years.
“I am acutely aware that I have never held a job for more years to the day, and that’s not because I can’t sit still,” he said. “I’ve just been advancing my career and now we’re at a point where we’d like to settle down somewhere. We’ve passed on a couple of opportunities inside and outside Michigan because we knew this was coming down the pipeline.”
Bruner also made mention of a city manager job he held in Birmingham, saying that it was his dream job but it didn’t end that way. Bruner refused to comment on the position and his time in Birmingham.
According to an article published in Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, Birmingham’s city council let his contract expire after finding out he had applied for a similar position in a nearby town during his own contract negotiations.
Bruner was a candidate for a city manager position in Brunswick, Ohio at the time.
Olson, the current town manager of Yorktown, Ind., said the prospect of working in Michigan came from he and his wife’s travels to the state’s northern regions.
“We knew we didn’t want to live in Kansas or Nebraska, and we knew that the Midwest was an area we wanted to be in, but we also wanted to be close to some of the amenities that we weren’t close to back home,” Olson said of his home state and its neighbor. “The Wal-Mart was 30 minutes away. That was because there wasn’t 30 minutes of traffic, there were 30 miles in between.”
Olson’s resume also boasts various positions in local government, including other city manager positions and a city administrator position in Nebraska that started his career.
Neighboring Yorktown is Muncie, Ind., the home of Ball State University. Olson said his experience in that community led him to Mount Pleasant looking for something similar.
“We’re well aware of the kinds of amenities offered by a college town,” he said. “They have the kinds of cultural amenities that everyone wants to be a part of and we see some of that here.”
Olson added that the diverse parties affecting Mount Pleasant’s government, including students but also the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Union Township, make the job even more enticing.
“It’s about building relationships and making improvements on the ones we do have,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to partner with these groups even as resources are at critical mass.”
As interim city manager, Ridley has “spent the last six months interviewing for the city manager position.”
Taking over for former city manager Kathie Grinzinger, Ridley has been doing two jobs at once. Ridley still serves as the city’s CFO.
“What I’ve learned over the last six months is that there are a lot of people that the city manager serves,” she said. “Obviously there’s the city commission who makes the hiring decisions and sets the priorities, but more importantly, there’s the service to our residents, our community partners and the media.”
Ridley said the last group is the hardest to serve because there can be a disconnect between the rules city commission implements and the public’s understanding of those rules.
“Procedures are in place for the greater good and sometimes have an impact on the individual, even if they don’t know why we have these rules in place,” she said. “That has been the most challenging piece.”
An alumna of Central Michigan University, Ridley said her story is one of “someone who came here to go to college and never left.”
“I was fortunate to be offered a job at Central Michigan University before I finished my bachelor’s degree, and I finished that degree and my master’s on a part-time basis,” she said. “Sixteen years ago, I was fortunate to take a job with the city.”
Ridley added that her time in Mount Pleasant could be perceived as he greatest weakness.
“I think that one of the weaknesses people assume is that all of my municipal experience has been in the city of Mount Pleasant,” she said. “I think that’s a weakness that can be overcome because there’s a great network of city managers in Michigan, so there are resources available to find out how others have dealt with that.”