New city manager looking forward to familiarizing himself with Berkley

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published April 26, 2016

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BERKLEY — The position of Berkley city manager was one that, if it became available, would have caused Matthew Baumgarten to throw his hat into the ring.

Then the job became available.

“I went home, talked to my wife about it, and we both agreed it was the right next move,” Baumgarten said.

It turned out to be the right move for Baumgarten, who was appointed as Berkley’s next city manager March 28. He officially will start the job on Tuesday, May 31. He will be taking the position left by former City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa, who left to become deputy mayor in Pontiac.

Looking back on his road to the job, Baumgarten, the current city administrator for Lathrup Village, said he was impressed with how the city operated the search for the position and how involved the citizens were in helping select a new city manager.

“We got to talk about our passion with people … who loved Berkley and who wanted to see it become a better place,” he said.

Although he doesn’t have any reservations about leaving Lathrup Village, he wishes he could leave a second version of himself behind so that he could continue working for both towns.

“I’m in a great situation where I’m leaving a wonderful community that I’m going to miss greatly, but going to one as well that I’m excited to be a part of,” he said.

When it came to selecting Baumgarten, Mayor Phil O’Dwyer said Baumgarten has excellent management and interpersonal skills, as well as a progressive perspective on municipal management. O’Dwyer also mentioned Baumgarten’s collegial style and his working well with others as assets that he’ll bring as city manager.

“We have opportunities to utilize these skills,” he said. “We have roads that need to be improved. We have infrastructure that is fairly in need of improvement. So he will have ample opportunity to utilize those skills over the next few years.

“We don’t have time anymore in municipal government to be limited by voices that can’t come together. We need people who are positive, works well with others, willing to not always get their own way in the interest of the greater good of the city, and I think he’s that kind of guy.”

Baumgarten’s first goal when he starts will be meeting with City Hall staff members so he can familiarize himself with what is going on in the community, and he can get to know the people he’s working with and let them get to know him.

“I really value honesty,” he said. “I want to hear from them. What’s worked, what hasn’t, what they’ve tried, where they’ve failed, why it failed and where they think trying it again would be fruitful.

“Before I turn around and start telling the City Council, ‘I can do this and that for you and for the city and the residents,’ I want to make sure I’m not overpromising and under-delivering. I want to have the best picture as possible with what the capabilities are with the staff and where we can go and how quickly we can get there.”