Council Narrows Field for City Manager

By CYNTHIA KMETT

After spending last Saturday interviewing six semifinalists for the job of Troy’s new city manager, they narrowed the field to three finalists.

Those candidates are Victor Cardenas, assistant city manager in the City of Novi; Chris Wilson, village manager of the Village of Beverly Hills; and Rex Saukkonen, a contractor for Decypher Corporation in Mildenhall, UK. Saukkonen did his interview by Skype, as a plane ticket for the British semifinalist would be in the $2,000 range.

But the decision on which three candidates to choose was not without a bit of tension in the council boardroom. Each councilmember got to name their top three picks to determine who would return on November 15 for the final interviews. Cardenas and Wilson each received every councilmember’s vote for a total of seven each.

Now the (dare we say) surprise, was that Saukkonen got four votes and current city manager Mark Miller received just three votes. Those were from councilmembers David Hamilton, Edna Abrahim and Ellen Hoderek. Councilmembers Ethan Baker, Dave Henderson, Ed Pennington, and mayor Dane Slater preferred Saukkonen.

Hamilton was less than pleased at this vote, asking how they could pick someone with zero municipal experience over someone who’s been with the city for 18 years, nine of those as assistant city manager.

“Considering your history of choosing city managers, I am shocked and appalled,” he added. “You’re a joke,” Hamilton tossed out.

Henderson wanted to know if Hamilton was calling mayor Slater a joke? “It’s to the four of you,” Hamilton replied.

City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm stepped in and asked for decorum in the process.

Councilmember Hodorek observed that she was “troubled and disappointed they were not promoting from within. She suggested that the path may be very difficult to manage going forward, as staff seemed to believe Miller would be an excellent choice.

With only a one point difference between Saukkonen and Miller, councilmember Abrahim suggested they interview all four candidates.

If they’re going to make a change, councilmember Pennington said why not just the top two that everyone liked. He didn’t think hearing them all again would make minds change.

Councilmember Baker added that he was certain that Troy’s outstanding staff would rise to the occasion no matter who gets in.

No councilmember was giving any reason for not moving Miller forward, but there were some answers from Cardenas and Wilson during the interview that one might suspect pleased council. Both had forward-looking views on making the city’s foreign-born population feel welcome in the city. Remember that mayor Slater founded the Global Troy Committee for just that purpose.

The two top candidates also noted that it was important to get out in the community and join groups like the Chamber, Lions, and Rotary – and know what was important to residents and businesses.

And then there were the social media questions, and how important it is to let everyone know the good and bad going on in the city.

Cardenas is from Novi, with a population very similar to Troy’s. Wilson is quite familiar with Troy, as his wife teaches at Troy High and his children attend Troy schools, making him well aware of how important education is to the city’s residents.

Hamilton decided to apologize for his outburst, but added, “I do not trust your ability to run our city.”

Baker reminded Hamilton, who is in his first year on council, he didn’t know what might have prompted the exclusion of Miller. Slater said he wouldn’t say anything negative at this meeting, but would be glad to discuss the situation privately.

All this prompted Henderson to move to interview the top three candidates. They all voted yes.

Residents are invited to a public engagement session on Thursday, November 15 at 5 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at Troy City Hall, 500 W. Big Beaver Road, to meet the three finalists.

The second round of interviews and council deliberation will be held at a special city council meeting starting at 7 p.m. in the boardroom following the public engagement with the three candidates.

If you want to watch the interviews and the selection session, they’re all online. Go to troymi.gov and it’s at the bottom of the home page. Some of the interviews are under the “videos” section.