Divided council picks final three candidates for Troy city manager

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 30, 2018

TROY — Amid a councilman’s charge of mistrust for other council members and calling them “a joke,” for which he later apologized, a split vote prevailed and three finalists for the Troy city manager position were chosen.

The final three candidates are Victor Cardenas, Chris D. Wilson and Rex Saukkonen.

Cardenas currently serves as the assistant city manager of Novi. Wilson serves as the village manager of Beverly Hills. Saukkonen has a background in the armed forces in command and is employed by a defense contractor overseas.

The Troy City Council interviewed the six finalists Oct. 27, Saukkonen via Skype. The city will fund his travel expenses, estimated at about $2,000, for his final interview.

After consulting with GovHR USA, the search firm retained by the city, in closed session Oct. 8, the City Council winnowed the field down to six candidates, one of them being acting City Manager Mark Miller.

The council appointed Miller to serve as interim city manager immediately following former City Manager Brian Kischnick’s termination March 11.

Council members each voted for three candidates following the interviews Oct. 27.

Mayor Dane Slater and Councilmen Ed Pennington, Dave Henderson and Ethan Baker selected Cardenas, Wilson and Saukkonen.  Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek, Mayor Pro Tem Edna Abrahim and Councilman David Hamilton selected Cardenas, Miller and Wilson as finalists.

“You go with someone with zero municipal experience over someone who worked for the city for 18 years and has worked within the city manager department for nine years,” Hamilton said in reference to Saukkonen and Miller, respectively. “After your history of choosing city managers, I am appalled that you would go for someone with no municipal experience.”

Slater  said everyone has their reasons for picking each individual.

“I’m certainly not going to be negative here. Each council member had an opportunity to pick three names, and this is how it fell,” Slater said.

“You’re a joke,” Hamilton said, adding that he directed that comment at the four members who had not voted for Miller (Slater, Baker, Henderson and Pennington).

When Henderson asked, as a point of order, if Hamilton could call “the four of us a joke at a City Council meeting,” City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm replied, “We’re hoping to move on and provide decorum. I’m sure council will be able to do that and reach this process.”

Hodorek said she thought the council needed “to take a second to consider the impact on staff overall of not proceeding with the person who’s served as acting city manager, has been city manager at this time, has been moving the staff forward. The impact on staff at not allowing that employee to proceed further in this process — there will be consequences. We already have a morale issue that arose from our collective failure to properly listen to staff when they sounded the alarm back in the summer of 2016,” she said in reference to complaints about Kischnick.

“I was very impressed with the first candidate (Saukkonen). But to suggest that his interview supersedes and we send a signal to our staff that we could not consider promoting from within, I’m very troubled by that. Frankly, I’m disappointed that we would do that to staff.”

 

Consensus to name three finalists
Abrahim suggested naming four finalists instead of three, and Pennington suggested only naming the two finalists everyone had agreed upon.

“Before comments were made by Councilman Hamilton, I certainly would have entertained something like that,” Slater said in reference to Abrahim’s suggestion. “Because it was never my intent, never anybody’s intent, to slight anybody in the process. … I have my reasons for voting the way I did.”

“It’s hard to justify choices without discussing flaws or bringing it to a negative point,” Baker said. “I hear you loud and clear about city staff. I also have faith in the city staff. If we had a plan going into it (picking three finalists), we should probably stick with that. It’s unfortunate for some people.”

Hamilton said choosing a city manager is the most important decision the council can make. “And two years ago, four of you made one of the worst decisions in the history of our council. The city manager you kept has been indicted by the FBI, has been arrested for domestic violence, has made, from my observation, our city staff have a horrible experience. So, I do not trust your ability to make these decisions anymore. You have shown a history of making the wrong decision. I’m done not speaking out on it. I’m going to say I do not trust you four members to run our city.”

He apologized for his “earlier comment,” but not for “not trusting you four.”

The vote was taken to approve the three finalists. Hamilton and Hodorek voted no.

Following the vote, Slater said he was sorry that GovHR USA “had to sit here and listen to this. But we’ll move forward. We’ll be OK.”

“I’m obviously disappointed,” Miller said, via email. “I will continue to provide professional service to City Council and the residents of Troy, as the temporary city manager and director of economic and community development.”

The City Council fired Kischnick after about an hour and a half in closed session with a labor attorney in a special meeting March 11.

The council unanimously terminated Kischnick with cause, which means he received no severance. He was hired in 2012.

The decision came two days after Kischnick was arrested following what police said was a domestic assault incident at a home in Clawson at about 10:30 p.m. March 9.

He pleaded no contest to domestic violence in the 52-2 District Court April 16 and was sentenced to 15 months of probation and 30 days of jail time held in abeyance.

Kischnick later pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a pavement contractor, a felony that carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Court Judge Nanci Edmunds accepted Kischnick’s plea Aug. 22.

In July 2016, Kischnick came under scrutiny for issues involving a car accident with a city vehicle, as well as questionable moves involving a vendor, the purchase of phone accessories and the city manager’s car allowance.

Kischnick will be sentenced at 10 a.m. Dec. 13. His bond was set at $10,000, and he was required to surrender his passport.

Residents are invited to a public engagement session at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 in the City Council chambers of Troy City Hall, 500 W. Big Beaver Road, to meet the three finalists. The second round of interviews and City Council deliberation will be held at a special meeting at 7 p.m. in the City Council boardroom following the public engagement with the three candidates.