Eastpointe voters to consider charter amendment on November ballot

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 22, 2019

 On Nov. 5, Eastpointe voters can decide whether they wish to amend part of the city charter that requires candidates for city manager to have at least one year of experience as a city manager or assistant city manager. Proponents of the amendment say that this will provide the city with a wider pool of candidates.

On Nov. 5, Eastpointe voters can decide whether they wish to amend part of the city charter that requires candidates for city manager to have at least one year of experience as a city manager or assistant city manager. Proponents of the amendment say that this will provide the city with a wider pool of candidates.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

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EASTPOINTE — Eastpointe residents are being asked to consider an amendment on the upcoming Nov. 5 ballot that would adjust the city’s charter to remove a requirement that any candidate for city manager have at least one year of experience as either a city manager or an assistant city manager.

The exact ballot language reads: “Shall the Charter of the City of Eastpointe, Chapter III Section 18, be amended to eliminate the requirements providing the Manager shall have at least one year experience as a manager or assistant manager in some city or village?”

Ryan Cotton, Eastpointe’s acting city manager, said this requirement has made finding candidates for the position far more difficult. He also said this difficulty has meant a longer selection process and thus left the city without its manager for a longer period of time.

“The City Council is engaged in its third city manager search in two years, and there’s a lot of reasons for that, but the recruitment effort includes using best practices to look for the best candidates,” Cotton said. “This means doing a national search, but the search is restricted to people with a year of experience as city manager or assistant city manager. There are a lot of qualified people with county experience, township management experience and state government or special district management who are otherwise well-suited for consideration if you don’t take this narrow requirement into consideration.”

Eastpointe has had to perform searches for two new city managers in two years. Mayor Pro Tem Michael Klinefelt began researching the possibilities of removing the one-year-of-experience requirement, saying that the lack of a permanent city manager has hurt city operations.

“We are a weak mayoral form of government, so a city manager is our top administrator who runs all of our operations on a day-to-day basis. We need someone not only competent, but (who) also has ideas for improvement,” said Klinefelt. “I started looking into this issue probably about two years ago when we first started going through searches to find a permanent city manager.”

Klinefelt and the other members of the City Council, as well as Mayor Suzanne Pixley, have voiced their support for the charter amendment.

“The City Council approved this in a 5-0 vote on July 16,” Cotton said. “The city’s administrators commonly agree this would be the best. Most cities have eliminated this requirement to open up the pool of candidates.”

Cotton was asked to step in as acting city manager during the search for a permanent candidate for a second time in July after the previous manager, Joseph Sabota, stepped down after holding the position for less than a year. Cotton said the charter requirement is an outdated one that is now largely redundant. 

“The charter is many decades old,” he said. “This measure was put in place to prevent things like cronyism or nepotism, but now that we have other methods of oversight, it’s somewhat redundant and only ties our hands when trying to find leadership for the city.”

Klinefelt said the measure is particularly limiting because there is a smaller pool of candidates to choose from in 2019, as there are fewer city managers than there used to be.

“We’ve done several city manager searches over the last few years, and we’ve seen several city manager candidates that we couldn’t consider because of this restriction in our charter. With requiring one year of experience, it limits our options. A lot of municipalities don’t have city managers, especially after 2008 with a lot of cities cutting staff,” Klinefelt said. “My hope is that this will pass in time to affect our current city manager search.”

Cotton stressed that the city is not looking for candidates with less experience or expertise; rather, city leaders want to ensure that those with similar expertise who have never been a city manager or an assistant manager per se could be considered.

“There are a lot of people with similar levels of experience who just have never served as an actual city manager or assistant city manager,” said Cotton. “We just want to make sure we are casting the widest possible net when looking for good city leaders. We still prefer them to have a year of experience, but they would no longer be removed from consideration.”

Klinefelt said he believes the community has seen how expediting the city manager search would be good for the city. He said he is optimistic about the ballot question passing.

“This provision is an antiquated one, and most communities don’t have similar language in their charters. It doesn’t benefit us to tie our own hands and exclude talent,” he remarked. “I’m optimistic about this passing. I think a lot of residents are fully aware of how difficult this process has been to find a new city manager.”

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