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Grosse Pointe Shores mayor pro tem resigns over mayor’s ‘lack of leadership’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 17, 2019

 Bruce Bisballe

Bruce Bisballe

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — When the Grosse Pointe Shores City Council conducted its last meeting of 2019 Dec. 17, it was without its mayor pro tem and Finance Committee chair.

City Councilman Bruce Bisballe — who occupied both of those key positions with the Shores — quietly announced his resignation from the council at the end of the last council meeting Nov. 19. An attorney, certified public accountant and retired business owner, Bisballe was first elected to the council in 2011. His current term wasn’t set to expire until November 2021.

“I found the leadership to be totally lacking, and I was tired of banging my head against the wall,” Bisballe said of his decision to leave.

Particular recent areas of frustration, Bisballe said, included the “forced retirement” of former City Manager Mark Wollenweber, and the council’s failure to appoint an interim city manager immediately.

Wollenweber’s last day was Oct. 3, but the council didn’t name an interim city manager until after a closed session Nov. 19, when Building Inspector Tom Krolczyk was named the interim manager. Bisballe said he and City Councilmen Doug Kucyk and Robert Barrette voted against the appointment of Krolczyk, while Mayor Ted Kedzierski and council members Danielle Gehlert, John Seago and Matthew Seely voted in favor of his appointment.

“It was handled terribly,” Bisballe said of the succession process.

Kedzierski said they wanted to hold off on appointing an interim manager until after the November council election. Most communities appoint an interim manager immediately as they search for a permanent replacement.

“The city manager left and there was no replacement; there was no plan in place,” Bisballe said.

Bisballe said he was also frustrated by the actions of certain City Council members. Shores City Councilman Matthew Seely has drawn media attention and criticism from residents inside and outside of the Shores for some of his social media posts, which critics have said are offensive to women, minorities and others. Seely, an active supporter of President Donald Trump, has argued that he has made these posts on a Facebook page that’s only supposed to be accessible by other Trump supporters; he has also said he has the right to express his opinions. Seely denies that the posts were sexist or racist.

Seely’s critics have said that regardless of Seely’s contention that his posts weren’t done in the context of his role as a council member, his actions paint the Shores in a negative light and give the impression that the city isn’t welcoming to all, because he’s a member of the council.

“Certain council members continued to do things to promote their agenda, and the mayor would just put his head down and not do anything,” Bisballe said.

Bisballe said he’s proud of his tenure with the city, during which the Shores “went from being on a financial watch list for the state of Michigan to having millions of dollars in the bank and a AAA bond rating.” He said he was closely involved in many significant activities, including a lawsuit with the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club against the city and a sewer plan in which the Shores was able to negotiate a more favorable rate for its overages.

“It’s not a criticism of the residents or the (city) staff — it’s a challenge to (Kedzierski),” Bisballe said of his decision to resign.

Kedzierski said he had no idea Bisballe was considering leaving the council.

“I was very surprised, very shocked by it,” Kedzierski said. “I wanted him to continue as mayor pro tem.”

Kedzierski said he had just had breakfast with Bisballe about a week before the November council meeting, during which he said he asked Bisballe to continue serving as mayor pro tem and chair of the Finance Committee. The mayor said he asked Bisballe who else from the council he’d like to see appointed to the Finance Committee.

“Bruce was a very valuable member of our council,” Kedzierski said. “He was a razor-sharp financial professional. ... He was the perfect candidate to lead the Finance Committee. ... (And) he had great insight into structural issues.”

Wollenweber also praised Bisballe’s abilities.

“Clearly, his business expertise transferred,” Wollenweber said. “He really understood finance. … He took charge of the budgeting process. I certainly benefited (from that), as did the rest of the staff. He understood starting the budget from the bottom up.”

Wollenweber said Bisballe “communicated well with staff and the council” and “had a longer-term view of things.”

“He was probably the sharpest elected official I ever worked with,” Wollenweber said. “I think he was frustrated with what was going on with the city in the last year or so. … Bruce did a great job. I’m sorry he left. That’s a great loss for the city as a whole.”

As to Bisballe’s assertion that he left because of a “lack of leadership,” Kedzierski said he had no idea Bisballe felt that way.

“We had a very pleasant breakfast the week before,” Kedzierski said. “It never was brought up. I’m a consensus builder. I’m a member of the team. We’re all in it for the betterment of the city. I’m a little perplexed by (his comment).”

Kedzierski said the Shores city charter doesn’t spell out a time frame for filling a council vacancy — it just calls for the council to approve a candidate by a majority vote. The council could appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of Bisballe’s term, or Kedzierski said the council could put the vacancy on the ballot in March 2020, because there’s going to be a presidential primary at that time.

While Bisballe may be dismayed at the direction that elected officials are taking the Shores in now, he said the city has lasted through a range of leadership over its 100-plus-year history.

“At the end of the day, the village will continue — it will survive,” he said.