City Council to interview interim city manager candidate

By: Bria Brown | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published April 13, 2018

 Eastpointe City Attorney Richard Albright, left, Councilman Cardi DeMonaco Jr., Councilwoman Monique Owens, Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley, Deputy City Clerk Randy Altimus, Councilwoman Sarah Lucido, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Klinefelt and Eastpointe Finance Director Randall Blum discuss appointing an interim city manager at the April 10 Eastpointe City Council meeting.

Eastpointe City Attorney Richard Albright, left, Councilman Cardi DeMonaco Jr., Councilwoman Monique Owens, Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley, Deputy City Clerk Randy Altimus, Councilwoman Sarah Lucido, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Klinefelt and Eastpointe Finance Director Randall Blum discuss appointing an interim city manager at the April 10 Eastpointe City Council meeting.

Photo by Donna Agusti

EASTPOINTE — The Eastpointe City Council is scheduled to interview Ryan Cotton, via Skype, for the interim city manager position at its next City Council meeting at 7 p.m. April 17 at Eastpointe City Hall, 23200 Gratiot Ave.

During the scheduled April 17 meeting, the council plans to interview Cotton prior to voting on an agreement with GovTempsUSA for Cotton to serve as interim city manager. The council plans to determine Cotton’s salary and benefits. 

Council members voted 5-0 during a special City Council meeting April 10 to discuss Cotton as the city’s interim city manager and then consider a contract with GovTempsUSA — a recruitment, consulting and interim staffing services company serving the public and nonprofit sectors — according to an email from the city April 11.

The email from the city also stated information about Cotton’s background. 

“In a letter to the city of Eastpointe expressing interest in the interim city manager position, Cotton said he has 35 years of experience as a local government management professional in four communities in two states, most recently as the city manager of Holland, Michigan, where he was responsible for a $36 million budget and 185 full-time employees. Cotton also conducted labor relations and strategic planning in each community he has served,” the email stated. 

The city manager position has been vacant since August 2017. Eastpointe Deputy Clerk Randy Altimus filled in for a while, and then the city placed Joseph Merucci in the position of acting city manager. Merucci will return as the city manager’s office supervisor once the position is filled. 

In January, the council chose Daniel Berlowitz, along with two other candidates, as finalists for the city manager position. In a special meeting March 7, the council interviewed Berlowitz and offered him the position.

Unable to reach an agreement with Berlowitz, the council voted 5-0 to rescind its offer at a March 30 special meeting. At the council’s April 3 meeting, members discussed the idea of hiring an interim city manager.

Discussions at the meeting April 10 included members’ reasoning for why the city would hire an interim city manager, noting that Altimus couldn’t add more to his workload.  

“We need to have a interim city manager so that we can maintain the services that we have, because Randy (Altimus) cannot do it all. There’s a lot of things that have gone by the wayside in the last eight or nine months that can’t continue to go by the wayside. Those things need to be corrected,” said Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley. 

It was later stated April 10 that Altimus did not want the position because he is the deputy city clerk, plans to retire from the city in a year and would rather assist behind the scenes. Last fall, Altimus was the assistant city manager and made the council aware that his time was spread thin with gearing up for the election, and he didn’t want to risk his health with the demanding duties.

As for Cotton, Pixley informed the council that Altimus had spoken to Cotton and believed he would work well with the council. 

Mayor Pro Tem Michael Klinefelt said that moving forward, he believed an external candidate would be appropriate for the position. 

“I think that council decided an external candidate would be a great benefit to the city. I think it’s a good idea to bring in someone new. I think it’s very difficult to step into a prior manager’s shoes and run things in the same style that they did. I think it’s a good idea to bring someone from outside,” said Klinefelt. 

Councilwoman Sarah Lucido favored moving forward with Cotton. 

“I agree, I think we need to move forward tonight in getting an interim city manager. After reading everything about Mr. Cotton, I think he would be a good fit for the city, and I spoke with Randy also, and he said he thinks he would work well with us. I believe he could be our best choice at this point moving forward,” said Lucido. 

Lucido added that she felt the council could do a search for a permanent city manager independently, like the council had done with the previous search, rather than hire a search firm. 

“I think we should just go forward with the search on our own independently again, like we did last time. It was a lot of work and there was a lot of time reading through all the applicants, but I don’t believe they are going to get us any more applicants that we can’t get on our own,” she said.  

DeMonaco wanted to make an investment by using an outside source to help with the process, because it came with certain guarantees. 

“I think I’m more inclined to go with the search and make an investment in a search and allow them to help out on the beginning end,” said DeMonaco. 

Pixley agreed with DeMonaco’s comment about doing a professional search. 

“I think I agree with you. I don’t think that we have the time to do it (on our own). Sarah feels very strongly that we probably could’ve gotten some of this same information (on our own),” said Pixley. 

“I would like to see a permanent city manager put in place within the next year,” she added. 

The council agreed to look at what different companies offer for a professional city manager search and to compare them during its next scheduled council meeting. 

At the end of the discussion, each council member thanked Merucci for stepping up as acting city manager. 

“I’m happy to see us moving forward. I think it’s a good decision, and I look forward to seeing what we can do next week,” said Klinefelt. 

“I’m also happy to be making steps forward at this point,” said Lucido.  

Councilwoman Monique Owens had similar thoughts. 

“I’m glad we’re moving forward. I also want to say Joe has been doing a really good job stepping up to the plate,” said Owens. 

“Mr. Merucci has been doing a great job. I’m very thankful for everything he’s been doing in this time of transition for Eastpointe, and I look forward to talking to Mr. Cotton next week,” said DeMonaco. 

Pixley concluded the meeting with her comments. 

“I’m very thankful for our department heads, who’ve all pulled together to maintain the city, and, of course, for Mr. Merucci stepping up, and for Mr. Altimus and Mr. (Randy) Blum for sticking around to help us with all of this,” said Pixley. 

Merucci was not present at the April 10 meeting.