At its Nov. 26 meeting, City Council made what Mayor Pro Tem Robert Corbett called “a once-in-a-generation decision,” appointing the next city manager of Madison Heights.
Earlier this fall, the current city manager, Jon Austin, announced that he would retire by the end of February. Austin has served the community for 21 years — the longest tenure of any city manager in the history of Madison Heights.
His successor will be Benjamin Myers, the current deputy city manager, approved by council in a 5-2 vote. Councilmen Kyle Geralds and Brian Hartwell were the only dissenters, saying they fully approve of Myers and believe he will be great in the role, but that more candidates should’ve been reviewed in the interest of thoroughness.
As it stands, Myers was the only candidate considered. His interview was Tuesday, Nov. 20. No other internal candidates applied, and no external candidates were considered for the position.
Myers has 25 years of experience in municipal management, including 20 years of service in Madison Heights. He has been the deputy city manager since March 2006; before that, he was the assistant city manager since July 1992.
His extensive resume includes more than 200 accomplishments, many with him in a leadership role. His service spans multiple departments, including management of Streets, Solid Waste, Water and Sewer, Parks, Recreation, Senior Citizens, Motor Pool, Building Maintenance and Nature Center.
An intimate understanding of the ins and outs of Madison Heights was one of the factors playing a role in Myers’ favor.
“I think Mr. Myers is the (right) choice,” said Councilman Bob Gettings. “I think he’s proven himself; I think he’s had a good teacher (in Austin). I’ve said before a proven commodity is a good thing, and Mr. Myers fits that. … Deep in my heart, I feel like I’m making the right decision.”
Some of Myers’ major accomplishments include:
• Working with Austin to secure the 25-year lease agreement with Oakland County Parks, which will preserve the Red Oaks Nature Center.
• Restructuring DPS and cross-training personnel for a 35 percent downsizing over four years, while still maintaining basic services.
• Planning and executing a state-of-the-art, fixed-network, water meter reading system for improved customer service.
• Securing grant funding for municipal facility energy efficiency projects totaling over $350,000, and seeing the projects through to completion.
• Re-bidding a 10-year solid waste contract with a new provider, saving over $300,000 the first year, with a five-year hold on rates and no reduction in services.
• Negotiating a new 30-year water service contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department that reduces the volatility of rates.
• Transitioning the senior citizen home-delivered meal program through three changes in meal providers, with no break in services.
• Using federal funds to plan and construct the new Monroe Park.
And the list goes on. One key area of focus during his interview was his experience in long-term budgeting and strategic planning. Myers said at the time he learned a lot under the guidance of Austin, whom he called one of the best financial managers in the state.
He also said his experience in budgeting and finance is extensive, going all the way back to when he served as assistant to the township manager in Upper Merion Township from 1986-88.
“I was given a lot of latitude to help prepare the budget,” Myers said. “It was a multi-departmental township — a $14 million budget at the time, which was significant. I got my first taste of working with department heads on capital planning and budgeting.”
In Madison Heights, Myers said, he has been deeply involved in the budgetary process for the many divisions under his control. He also helps prepare the city’s financial outlook along with Austin and the assistant city manager, Melissa Marsh.
“I have been involved in budgeting and finance, academically since graduate school, but practically through all of my positions, in townships and the city of Madison Heights,” Myers said. “I have been part of the budgeting process here every year, multi-departmentally.
“Am I coming in as a financial expert to the degree that Melissa or Jon are? No, I cannot say that,” he told council. “But I can say I’ve had significant experience, and will only build on that going forward.”
Myers talked about how one short-term priority as city manager would be ensuring a smooth transition for public services, and furthering his own training in finance, including accreditation in the International City/Council Management Association.
He said he would consider revisiting the consolidation of dispatch and fire operations with nearby communities, “a very thorny and difficult issue.” He feels the pressure to regionalize is greater now, and all options have to be on the table.
Myers also spoke to how attracting and retaining top talent will be another challenge, since traditional incentives like pay and benefits are no longer an option for the city. Instead, the city will have to empower employees with respect, authority and credit for a job well-done, he said, and be upfront with them about any bad news.
At the end of his interview, Myers said he approached this process with a sense of humility, and that he felt no entitlement to the city’s top position.
“But I think if you look at what I’ve done … I’ve given you a resume with 200 accomplishments,” Myers said. “Very rarely is it one person — it’s a team — but I’ve had my finger in a lot of pies here for a long time, and I bring that expertise to the table.
“My style is participatory,” he said. “I’m not afraid to make a decision, but I welcome input; I don’t care where an idea comes from, but I want an idea. I think you have to be open to that these days.”
Myers becomes city manager of Madison Heights March 1.