Grosse Pointe Park City Council names new city manager

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 10, 2019

 Grosse Pointe Park interim City Manager Nick Sizeland — pictured here being interviewed by the Park City Council in council chambers during a special meeting Sept. 4 — was named the new city manager during that meeting.

Grosse Pointe Park interim City Manager Nick Sizeland — pictured here being interviewed by the Park City Council in council chambers during a special meeting Sept. 4 — was named the new city manager during that meeting.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Grosse Pointe Park conducted a national search for its new city manager, but the candidate the Park City Council ultimately chose was someone close to home.

During a special meeting Sept. 4 — at which the council interviewed three finalists for the manager position — the council voted to name interim City Manager Nick Sizeland as the new city manager.

Sizeland was named to replace his former boss, Dale Krajniak, who worked as the Park’s city manager for 31 years and as the finance director for two years before that. At 30, Sizeland is young, but he’s around the same age that Krajniak was when he was chosen to helm the Park’s administration.

Reached the night of the council’s decision, an overjoyed Sizeland said he was “ecstatic” and “on cloud nine” about the news.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

Sizeland was one of three finalists for the city’s top administrative job. The council also interviewed Shea Charles, who recently left his position as the city manager of Howell, where he worked for about 15 years; and Victor Cardenas, who has been the assistant city manager of Novi for the last nine years and worked as the village manager of Brooklyn, Michigan, before that.

“It’s a very daunting task to hire a new leader — especially after we’ve had the same one for 31 years,” Mayor Robert Denner said. “We had three outstanding candidates.”

Before the interviews began, Denner acknowledged the significance of this vote.

“There perhaps will not be a more important decision that we will have to make as a council,” he said.

Denner voiced immediate support for Sizeland after the interviews.

“Yes, he is young — there’s a lot to learn yet — but I was amazed and impressed with what he demonstrated (as the interim city manager),” Denner said. “He continued to exceed my expectations.”

Sizeland earned both a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in history, and a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in public management, from Northern Michigan University in Marquette. He was hired as the assistant to the city manager in the Park in July 2016 and retained that title until he was promoted to assistant city manager in February 2019.

Sizeland became the interim city manager July 1, following Krajniak’s retirement June 30. Prior to working in the Park, Sizeland was a graduate management intern in Grand Ledge, Michigan. Sizeland and his wife, whose maiden name was Clare Vandelinder, now live in Grosse Pointe Woods; Clare Sizeland grew up in the Park.

But the decision to name Sizeland city manager wasn’t unanimous. After several hours of public interviews and council discussion, the council appointed Sizeland by a vote of 5-2, with Denner, City Councilman John Chouinard, City Councilwoman Barb Detwiler, City Councilman Daniel Grano and City Councilman James Robson voting for Sizeland, and City Councilman Daniel Clark and City Councilwoman Lauri Read voting against that motion.

Clark and Read both favored Cardenas, whose résumé also included serving as assistant to the city manager in Oak Park from November 2004 to April 2007. In addition, Cardenas took senior executives in local and state government training in 2017 at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Clark called Cardenas “the gold standard in city managers.”

Clark was concerned that they might be promoting Sizeland before he was ready, and felt Cardenas had more experience, especially in key areas such as labor negotiations. Read agreed.

“If you look at his résumé, this is (Sizeland’s) first real job,” Read said. “I really think it’s important to have someone with more leadership experience. … I also think that we shouldn’t fear bringing in somebody from outside.”

She was also concerned about Sizeland’s background in Republican Party politics, and said residents she’d heard from echoed that concern.

Jeff Mueller, who facilitated the national search for the Park through the Michigan Municipal League, said Sizeland, as a member of the International City Managers Association, is “absolutely prohibited from getting involved in politics.” Sizeland’s supporters on the council noted that his partisan work also occurred when he was still a student.

“The city manager serves at the pleasure of the council,” Robson said. “Changes can be made at any time. All of us, when we go to the polls, vote one way or the other.”

The city needs someone who can continue the momentum the Park has now, Grano said. That momentum is evident in the scores of new businesses that have opened on Kercheval, Charlevoix and Mack avenues in recent years, as well as a hot housing market.

“Because of that, I think Nick is the best candidate,” Grano said. “At this point, to change course would be detrimental to our city. I think Nick would do a fabulous job.”

Chouinard said Sizeland has good communication skills and is “very responsive.” Since becoming interim city manager, Chouinard said Sizeland has “hit the ground running.”

Robson said that with Sizeland, there would be “no learning curve” because he’s already familiar with the city. He said Sizeland was “very well-prepared” in his interview and “is genuinely talented,” even though he doesn’t have as much experience as the other candidates.

“What I get from Nick is his focus and loyalty to the community,” Robson said.

“Nick has the skill levels to relate to our residents,” Detwiler said. “He’s young, but I think he has the desire to grow.”

She also felt that Sizeland had an enthusiasm she didn’t see in the other candidates.

Grano worried that Cardenas might bring too much of a “big city bureaucracy” approach to the job.

The motion to appoint Sizeland included doing a background check. A second motion, to have the Personnel Committee — made up of Clark, Denner and Robson — undertake talks with the city attorney to negotiate a contract with Sizeland was approved by a vote of 6-1, with Read casting the sole dissenting vote.

“My comments are in no way to diminish Nick,” Read said after the meeting. “I thought we had two candidates who were stronger than Nick. I think we had an opportunity to bring in fresh ideas and experience.”

Clark said disagreements are part of the governmental process.

“This is a majoritarian process, and a majority of my colleagues didn’t agree, and that’s the way our process works,” he said after the meeting.

Thanking Mueller, Denner and the other council members said they had three strong candidates for the job.

The mayor said the council “really did their due diligence and took a careful and considered approach.” He feels the decision they reached was the right one.

“In the last two months, we saw a city manager — we didn’t see an assistant,” Denner said of Sizeland. “Many complex problems came his way, and he got on them right away.”