City Manager Interviews: Olson charms while focusing on relationships

Last was certainly not least in the case of Mount Pleasant city manager prospect Pete Olson as he finished up Tuesday's City Commission interview sessions with the three finalists.

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.

Olson, who serves as the town manager of Yorktown, Ind., spoke of his ability to build relationships and consensus as his major selling point.

"It's about figuring out what's best for the community," Olson said. "The evaluation process of a community's strength and weaknesses is always ongoing. Everything should be on the table of being evaluated."

Aside from a willingness to strengthen bonds and form new ones with the city's partners, Olson stressed his ability to be flexible with his communication methods with commissioners, employees and residents.

"Contact with citizens is extremely important because it's why we're doing what we're doing," he said. "I worked well with our chamber of commerce. I worked well with some home owners associations. I can take my time out of my day to do that. People want to know that they've been heard and want to know why we're doing the things we're doing."

When asked which method communication he prefers, Olson said the appropriate method of reaching out should be tailored to that individual, whether that's through text messages, emails or over a meal.

Throughout the interview, Olson told small jokes and used anecdotes to illustrate his past experience. This techniques elicited laughs and smiles from commissioners, who asked questions in a more conversational tone than with the other finalists.

An example of this came when commissioners asked Olson about his methods of team building. Olson quickly responded by saying "holding a water balloon fight."

"There are often times you find those team building activities helping you through," he said. "It's funny and I do my fair share of it, but you do have to find ways, whether that's a potluck or a celebration."

Each candidate was asked what his or her greatest accomplishment was. For Olson, Yorktown's consolidation process on a town to a township level was a high point.

In 2005, a court order presented the city boundaries of Yorktown and Muncie, Ind. The order outlined a no annexation policy for both communities. Olson said the township handled the accounting for fire and safety services, while the town funded 75 percent of the cost.

Indiana's Governor Mitch Daniels spearheaded a movement to make its government more effective by eliminating "what he felt was an overabundance of local governments and elected government officials."

A government reorganization policy was put in place by Indiana's lawmakers to allow small local governments to begin consolidations. As a result, Muncie started annexing land, preventing Olson and other officials from moving forward with vital planning. There was also an issue trying to get an excess of township funds back into control of the town.

Olson said they developed a strategy that reduced staff and officials and one that both governments agreed on.

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.

The summary mentioned only two out of the three candidates – Olson's was one of the names in the summary.

Gandy said Olson's experience is an appealing prospect for the city, specifically his work with "high rental housing popuulations" and his ability to be collaborative. City staff also remarked how closely Olson's core values lined up with the city's.

Olson also seemed enthusiastic, personable and approachable, Gandy added.

The main concerns with Olson, she added, regard his lack of experience in collective bargaining and labor relations, and dealing with entities such as a university or the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

Another concern for city staff is that Yorktown is much smaller, by at least half, in size and population.

Check back with for updates on city commission's final city manager decision.



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