Novi to select firm for city manager search

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published December 7, 2022


NOVI — The city of Novi is seeking an executive search firm to help it find a new city manager following the retirement of Pete Auger at the end of last month.

Tia Gronlund-Fox, who heads the city’s Department of Human Services, was tasked with the responsibility of forming a committee of city employees to seek out firm applicants and go through applications. The committee consisted of Gronlund-Fox, Communications Director Sheryl Walsh-Molloy, Chief Information Officer Rob Petty, Public Safety Director Eric Zinser and Public Works Director Jeff Herczeg.

“No City Council members were on the committee, and that was on purpose, because I was a city staffer for 30 years, and I know the importance of picking a city manager,” Mayor Bob Gatt said at the Nov. 28 City Council meeting. “It’s the most important position in the city if you’re a member of the team. I want the city staff to have a say in what happens, and this has given them the opportunity to meet and talk about it and go back and forth and come up with a conclusion. At this point, the City Council will take complete charge after tonight when we vote on what firm we want to help us find the city manager. Then it becomes our duty. It’s the most important thing that I believe a City Council does.”

He went on to say that the city manager selection will have a direct impact on hundreds of people, from city staffers and workers to residents and city visitors.   

Gronlund-Fox presented the committee’s findings during the Nov. 28 meeting.  Gronlund-Fox said the committee posted a request for proposals Oct. 25 and received proposals from four firms. She said the committee narrowed down the candidates to two based on proximity.

“Everyone gave their input as far as if they have had any interactions with the firms, any experience, and what their opinion was of the proposals,” said Gronlund-Fox. “We looked at things such as where they were geographically located, the municipalities they have dealt with in the past, references. We did not talk about cost. Out of all the things we looked at, they were all fairly close, quite honestly, as far as communities they have dealt with, references, timeline, as well as cost.”

She said the team all agreed that the top two firms were Amy Cell Talent, which is based in Ypsilanti, and Slavin Management Consultants. Gatt recalled that the city had hired Slavin Management Consultants in the past.

Gatt said the city does not anticipate hiring a new city manager until sometime in March. However, Gronlund-Fox pointed out that the 12- to 15-week timeline will begin when the city selects a firm.

“The discussions I’ve had with my colleagues are that we are in no hurry. We want to take all the time in the world. This may be the worst time of year to ask people that are from a firm that might not be in Michigan or in Novi to come and do what they have to do to reach their final ways of finding a city manager,” said Gatt.

Councilman Justin Fischer asked Gronlund-Fox why the city should disqualify two of the four firms.

“What’s driving the gap?” he asked.

“The two rose to the top primarily because of where they were located and because of the communities that they have dealt with in the past,” said Gronlund-Fox. “I believe they are all qualified firms. One of the firms is located and primarily does business in the West Coast. That doesn’t mean they can’t do business in the central states, because they do, and the other firm, basically it was the same discussion.”

Fischer said he agreed with Gatt that they should interview the two firms.

“I was part of the council in 2014 when we did this, and I think that having the representatives here, having the ability to have them answer our questions, provide them with feedback directly on what we’re looking for in a firm, and then taking that and making the final recommendation on who we select, I think that is very important to me,” Fischer said. “I’d like to at least interview two firms.”

The council voted 7-0 to have staff contact the two recommended firms and prepare them for interviews in front of the council at the soonest available meeting where both can be present.

As the search for a new city manager continues, Victor Cardenas has taken over the helm as interim city manager. The council appointed Cardenas to the position in November. Cardenas has been the Novi assistant city manager for 12 years and is also being considered as a candidate for the city manager position.