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 The Clawson City Council plans to narrow down the list of applicants for city clerk at its July 7 meeting, after press time.

The Clawson City Council plans to narrow down the list of applicants for city clerk at its July 7 meeting, after press time.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

Clawson moves forward with clerk hiring process

City set for Aug. 4 primary

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 7, 2020


CLAWSON — During a special meeting June 29, the Clawson City Council resolved to review the 12 applications for the position of city clerk and narrow down candidates at the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting July 7, which took place after press time.

Interim City Manager Lori Fisher said the city is hoping to move forward with hiring the clerk as quickly as possible, but that Clawson is prepared for the Aug. 4 primary election.

The city hired former Clerk Machele Kukuk on a contractual basis to help oversee the election, and she will be assisted by Deputy Clerk Jennifer Perkins. Kukuk retired from the city of Clawson after serving 15 years as clerk and nearly 40 years in other roles.

On Feb. 18, the city swore in Catherine Kristian, of Highland Township, to the position of city clerk at a salary range of $63,000-$66,000. Kristian resigned from the position March 25.

Prior to Kristian’s hire, the city operated without a clerk, and again hired Kukuk to help oversee the November 2019 election, after former Clerk Victoria Mitchell left the position to assume the city clerk position in Berkley in September 2019.

“We are all set for having the election covered on our end, and I would be concerned if a potential candidate were coming from (another city). I would be hesitant to steal them away that close to an election,” Fisher said. “It’s likely they wouldn’t end up starting until after the Aug. 4 election, if that was going to be an issue. It may not. We have quite a few good candidates that (do not work in clerks’ offices).”

She added that she was grateful for Kukuk’s help.

“She has been here for, I think, two weeks helping us with our elections process, and everything is going along on schedule,” Fisher said in a July 1 interview with C & G Newspapers. “Our library board actually came in to help. They had to stuff some envelopes, and they volunteered and came in one afternoon.”

Mayor Reese Scripture and Councilman Lou Samson called the special meeting to discuss some council members’ complaints with the process of hiring the city clerk.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Susan Moffitt said Fisher asked her to be on a hiring committee for the position of city clerk. The committee included Moffitt, Police Chief Scott Sarvello, Treasurer Stacey Hodges, Perkins and Samson.

Moffitt said the group discussed the timeline, chose their top candidates and discussed when to schedule interviews all via email, a process she described as “very collaborative” with the exception of Samson, “who was silent on the issue.”

Fisher said she sent all of the resumes to all of the council to review, including a first batch that was part of a “first look” period, a second batch by the deadline, and one or two after the closing date.

Samson said he was busy due to a death in the family, and when he checked his email, he was surprised to see that the committee had narrowed the pool and were discussing phone interviews.

“That is a total violation,” he said. “That committee was only supposed to advertise, collect and get the packages to all of us.”

Councilwoman Kathy Phillips said she felt “confused and a little blindsided” by the committee whittling the candidates down to four because it was her understanding that council would still have the right to veto the choices or look at all the other members.

“With phone interviews going into circulation or happening, I don’t feel that that’s the issue,” Phillips said.

Councilwoman Paula Millan said she was pleased to learn about the committee.

“I think formulating the committee was an excellent idea. I think it was a very strong committee. I was really happy to see it,” Millan said. “They did the heavy lifting on this. The hardest thing is to get to the people that you actually want to interview, and nobody’s off the table. We all get the resumes. We all get the opportunity to provide input.”

She said she fully trusted the team and did not believe they violated anything, but that the problem is confusion within the council because “not a lot of things are highly defined.”

Scripture said she felt the committee’s behavior was appropriate, but Moffitt “ran rampant with it” by moving forward with phone interviews.

“Nobody on council was given the opportunity to even weigh in,” she said. “Council never approved the delegation of any part of the city clerk hiring process to an advisory committee.”

Her main concerns, she said, were that extending interview invitations would make it seem like council had discussed the candidates outside of a public meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act, that the emails could be secured through the Freedom of Information Act and hinder confidentiality, and that interview questions were not vetted by interim City Attorney Renis Nushaj. She posited that a question regarding proximity to Clawson was discriminatory.

“In summary, these actions indicate that Council member Moffitt has failed to act in an open, efficient, fair and honorable manner in the activity of selecting a new city clerk,” Scripture said.

Millan said she did not think it was fair to chastise Moffitt when the whole committee put time in “trying to do something good for us.”

“We want to do it the right way, so if something is procedurally wrong, let’s focus on that, but if it’s a matter of, ‘I didn’t understand this was going to happen,’ then it’s not fair to anybody,” Millan said.

Fisher said she asked the council to give her guidance in terms of hiring the city clerk and she received no answer during the June 16 City Council meeting.

“The interim city manager was frustrated by not getting direction about going forward with this critical position. We had a wonderful collaborative process,” Moffitt said. “We were doing something good for the city for once, and the desire to not actually accomplish anything is heartbreaking for the city.”