Mount Pleasant to hold closed session to discuss city manager finalists, names still unknown

Mount Pleasant's City Commission will hold a closed session during its regular meeting on June 9 to discuss the five finalists chosen for the vacant city manager's position.

It is unclear whether the finalists' names will be released after this meeting.

"They will go into a closed session during that meeting, but they may not release the name after that meeting," said City Clerk Jeremy Howard. "They could release it the day after (June 10) or a few days after that."

Howard said that the names will not be released because state law allows the city to keep the confidentiality of the applicants. All but one of the five have been named publicly. That person is Interim City Manager Nancy Ridley.

Leading the national search to find the city manager is Colin Baenziger & Associates, an executive search firm based out of Florida. No one locally, including city commissioners or Mount Pleasant residents are on the search committee, according to Susanne Gandy, Mount Pleasant's director of human resources.

The firm was hired by the city commission in February to conduct the search for a flat fee of $19,000. Other associated fees outside of the the flat rate include $750 for each individual background check conducted on a candidate.

Duties performed by the firm included gathering information on candidates, recruiting, screening the candidates and coordinating the interview process.

Gandy said the city will pay for each of the candidates to travel to Mount Pleasant, as well as their lodging while they are here.

On May 27, commissioners set three dates, June 23-25, for the public and commissioners to meet with candidates. The interview process – including the swath of questions commissioners will ask the candidates – will be heavily drafted and guided by the search firm. Gandy added that the firm will take the commissioners' concerns into consideration as it drafts its questions.

Aside from the commissioners, Gandy and her department, the only other people who have seen the applications for the candidates is Baenziger's firm.

On the application materials for the position, which is made up of an eight-page document including city history and amenities, the final section tells applicants that they can remain anonymous until before the interview date if they choose to.

Applicants who chose this option were told to make the request in writing. Gandy said she can't remember whether the requests were written on a separate document or were outlined in the applicants' cover letters.

Howard added that the option of anonymity is often requested to protect candidates who have been recruited and are interested in the position, but fear reprisal from their current employers.

"We're looking at it from the fact that a potential candidate could be harmed in some way by not remaining confidential," he said. "This is especially true in the private sector. That's probably where the concern comes from."

Central Michigan Life made a formal request for the names of the applicants through the Freedom of Information Act, a state law that allows citizens access to public records. The request was denied. CM Life delivered an appeal letter to Howard and Ridley, stating that the exemptions they are citing relate to the Open Meetings Act, and that the applications and resumes of applicants for a city manager's position are not exempt.

CM Life has also requested all of the applications offered to Baenziger in relation to the job search, as well as any documents or emails regarding the finalists and application materials created after a May 12 closed session. During this closed session, commissioners met to discuss the names of the candidates.

If the names are released after the June 9 meeting, residents and other interested parities who wish to research the finalists' backgrounds and previous work history will have two weeks to conduct such research.

When asked whether or not that was enough time for residents to research the candidates, Gandy said it was indeed sufficient.

"By the time we release the names, it will be easy for anyone with the Internet to research and educate themselves on the candidates," she said.

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