Column: City manager search offered few avenues for public, local business input
As Mount Pleasant concludes its city manager search next week after three days of public meetings, interviews and a public meet and greet, the residents of the city will have almost no chance to get to know the candidates.
Central Michigan Life planned to publish profiles of the candidates, who include Robert Bruner of Mount Clemens, Pete Olson of Yorktown, Ind., and interim city manager Nancy Ridley.
Each candidate, for what is arguably the most important and powerful political position in Mount Pleasant, backed out of his or her scheduled interviews.
Colin Baenziger & Associates, the firm hired by the city to conduct the search, advised them to cancel the interviews.
Baenziger’s firm suggested it was in their best interest to refrain from speaking to the press before the city commission interviews.
The fact that the finalists cancelled their interviews is disappointing. For many residents, reading about the candidates in the local newspaper may have been the only way to get to know them.
One of the three finalists will, after all, be leading the city into the future, shaping its public policy for many years.
The candidates will be accessible to concerned citizens June 23-25. That means if citizens want to become acquainted with the finalists, they’d have to spend about 48 hours attending the meet and greet, the public interviews starting at 9 a.m. on June 24, and would have to attend the meeting city commission will hold to announce its decision.
Sitting through each meeting is not only time consuming, it is absolutely inconvenient for residents who would ultimately be forced to take a few days off of work just to get a glimpse at the person in charge of running their city.
The process of choosing the city manager was never designed to consider the critiques or analysis of the candidates by the people.
In order to find the candidates, Baenziger solicited each commissioner for a list of what they deemed as the important issues facing the city. From there, he developed a written document that he shared with each of the 52 original prospective candidates.
Baenziger told CM Life that it’s his job to make sure the process goes smoothly, and that the advice about shying away from the press hinges on a matter of protocol. His argument is that the press might ask questions similar to those drafted by him, his associates, and those that might be asked of city commissioners.
Even if our questions and Baenzigers shared the same tone or content, I fail to see how that could be damaging to the process.
However, Baenziger could only cite one example in his career of executing national job searches where candidates could have been hurt by the press.
“You never really know what the consequences are, but I haven’t really heard an example of someone losing (the race) because they spoke with the press,” he said.
While Baenziger endeavored to protect the two external candidates, the unintended consequence of keeping them out of public view or scrutiny is that it gives an advantage to the internal candidate, whom many in the city are already campaigning for.
The decision ultimately rests in the hands of Mount Pleasant’s city commissioners, and in a time where public officials are calling for more participation of the people in government, it’s shocking that they wouldn’t offer a more inclusive avenue for increased public input.
Instead of simply asking a handful of commissioners for a list of potential issues, why didn’t Baenziger reach out to the Chamber of Commerce and the local business community? Why didn’t the search include members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, quite possibly the biggest employer in Mount Pleasant?
A more inclusive model for the search would have included this public input, at the beginning of the process and not at the finish line. Our hope was that the city commission would see the need for community input as important to their final decision.
The only way to show them that you do care who is chosen is to attend all three meetings and share your opinion, especially if its in opposition to a decision that is being made by elected officials on your behalf.