Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:37 a.m. on June 25.
Kicking off Mount Pleasant City Commission’s day-long interview process to find its next city manager, city officials sat one of their own in the hot seat Tuesday: Interim city manager Nancy Ridley.
The interview was part of a three-day slate of special meetings set aside to decide on the city’s new leader. Using the same set of questions throughout the interview process, commissioners had moments to interject with follow-up questions.
Ridley was the first interview of the day. Despite lacking much of the city manager experience of her fellow finalists, she waded through the interview process with few hiccups along the way.
A Central Michigan University alumna and a resident of the city, Ridley used her experience to talk about city issues.
“I know the organization, I know the staff, I know their individual strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “I also have knowledge of the city’s finances.”
Ridley said she recognizes she is inexperienced compared to the rest of the candidates.
“The main disadvantage that people point out is that I won’t see things with a fresh set of eyes, or rather that I’ll maintain the ‘status quo,’” she said. “If I was offered the job, I know that the staff and the city commission will not allow me to be ‘status quo.’”
Ridley added that she has joined the Michigan City Managers Association to help fill any gaps left open from her six months as interim city manager. The MCMA is a conglomeration of city managers across the state which allows them to network and share ideas, successes and failures.
The hometown candidate said she will use this network to help her form a leadership platform based on the advice and guidance of this group of experienced managers.
When asked about her greatest accomplishment, Ridley said getting the current city hall building up and running was something that she’ll always hold dear.
“I thought about this as I was sitting outside (in the lobby) waiting (to be interviewed), and I’ve been involved in this building since the first meeting we had in this building,” Ridley said with a hint of nostalgia. “There were a number of challenges with (The Borden) building. I look at what it looks like now as opposed to what it was in 2000 and I’m very proud of how it looks.”
Ridley also shared what she saw as her greatest failure.
One question asked of each candidate was to recall a time when their actions caused embarrassment to the city, the commissioners or their positions as city managers.
In 2008, a city employee embezzled nearly $30,000 from a cemetery fund used to buy new plots and burry deceased residents.
Ridley said the act wasn’t just an embarrassment for the city, but also an embarrassment for her because it happened under her watch as Mount Pleasant’s finance director.
“It was someone that I knew and that I had worked alongside with for many years,” Ridley said while choking up with emotion. “We’ve changed a lot since then to make sure something like this never happens again.”
Most of all, she felt a great deal of empathy for the unintended victims of the embezzlement: The families who bought into the fund.
Ridley said her empathy for the residents and employees of Mount Pleasant is one of her greatest strengths. Yet her staff in city hall feel otherwise.
At the end of the final interview sessions, Susanne Gandy, executive director of human resources for Mount Pleasant, gave a summary of city staff feedback on the candidates and who they believed would be the best fit.
Gandy said that Ridley’s “experience far surpasses in the breadth and depth of managerial, financial, leadership and cultural understanding.”
The summary mentioned only two out of the three candidates – Ridley was one of the names mentioned in the summary.
However, Gandy also said that Ridley’s empathy is a point of concern.
“As she shared with you, stepping back from the personal empathy for staff and citizens at times is an area of challenge,” Gandy said. “We are concerned this section of the job may weigh heavily on her, at a personal level.”
Check back with cm-life.com for updates on city commission’s final city manager decision.