Oakland Township selects new manager

Negotiations underway with Joseph Merucci

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 3, 2024


OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Oakland Township has a new township manager, Joseph Merucci, as long as a contract can be negotiated.

Former Township Manager Adam Klein — who served in the role for four years, since June 2019 — resigned from the position last October to take over as director of parks, recreation and seniors in Independence Township.

Since then, Township Supervisor Robin Buxar, Treasurer John Giannangeli and Clerk Dave Mabry have been splitting the responsibilities while the township conducted a search for a permanent replacement. Three candidates were interviewed for the position — Buxar, Jane Bias DiSessa and Joseph Merucci.

Buxar has lived in the township for almost 50 years and served on the Board of Trustees for over 11 years, as trustee, clerk and, currently, as supervisor. She is also currently employed as a program manager for Grammer Americas.

DiSessa previously served as the deputy mayor/chief of staff for the city of Lansing. She had worked in public administration her entire career in both small and large cities in Michigan, Colorado and Texas.

Merucci, the parks supervisor for the city of Eastpointe, has over 38 years of local government experience in Michigan. Over the years, he served as the administrative assistant to the city manager and as deputy city clerk in Garden City, as the Pleasant Ridge city manager, the Clawson city manager, Fowlerville village manager and zoning administrator, Lincoln Park city manager, Wayne city manager, and more.

On March 26, Trustee Jack Elder made a motion to appoint Buxar as the new township manager, which failed 3-4. Buxar, Elder and Clerk Dave Mabry voted in favor of the motion.

Elder said he thought Buxar was an “ideal candidate.”

“She is a gem for the township. She cares about the township tremendously and goes beyond the call of duty,” said Elder “She has a passion for this township that we’re not going to get from an outside man.”

“You can’t get anybody better,” Mabry added.

After the motion failed, Giannangeli made a motion to appoint Merucci as township manager, which passed 4-3.

Buxar, Elder and Mabry voted against the motion to appoint Merucci.

Buxar said she was “bothered” that Merucci’s resume showed he’d held one city manager job for less than four months and another for one year, and that he had a period of being unemployed.

“To me, there were a lot of red flags that I have an issue saying I could, in good conscience, vote for him,” she said. “I hope he’s good.”

Mabry agreed Merucci’s resume didn’t show “a lot of longevity in any given job.”

“If we’re wanting somebody that is going to stick around, it seems like we’re choosing the wrong one,” said Mabry.

Giannangeli, along with trustees Jeanne Langlois, Lana Mangiapane and Andy Zale, voted in favor of the motion to appoint Merucci.

“Using the criteria outlined from the job description and the charter act, as well as my own experience serving on this board and also giving a great deal of thought about the type of person and background and experience that is best suited to this role, I believe the candidate Mr. Joe Merucci is most qualified,” Langlois said.

Langlois said she liked that he has 38 years of local government experience and involvement; a master’s in public administration; has been elected, appointed and employed in government; and has a successful track record of what she said were “several fairly long assignments.”

Giannangeli said he’s confident Merucci will “serve the board well.”

“His management style is conducive to an open and safe communication environment, which will foster collaboration and teamwork within the staff. He will be approachable, willing to listen, willing to accept feedback, and more importantly, willing to change, if required. These are not just people or managerial skills, but leadership qualities, and Joe Merucci is serious about this position,” he said.

Zale said it was a pretty tight decision for him, but he preferred Merucci over Buxar.

“This is a very difficult job to do, based on the fact that we’ve had a lot of turnover in it, so I’m hopeful that things will work out with the job. If not, we’ll go back to the drawing board,” he said.

Over the past decade, the township has had four managers — Ann Capella, who held the position for less than a year in 2014; Warren Brown, who also served for less than a year in 2015; Dale Stuart, who held the position from fall of 2015 to spring of 2019; and Adam Kline, who was manager from the summer of 2019 to the fall of 2023.

This time around, Buxar said the board conducted “a very thorough search and process” looking for the next township manager.

“I was happy to be one of the three finalists. Nevertheless, in a 4-3 vote, the board chose Mr. Joseph Merucci. I wish him success in his new position and look forward to working with him in the future,” she said in an email.

Oakland Township is governed by a seven-member board, which includes an elected supervisor, treasurer, clerk and four trustees. The board hires the manager to facilitate the day-to-day business of the township, including managing departments and personnel, preparing and administering the township budget, acting as its purchasing agent, and more.

At press time, Merucci, a resident of Clawson, said he feels “wonderful” to be selected to fill the position.

“I’ve been looking to leave Eastpointe for a while, and finally, I guess, my wish comes true, potentially — I’m assuming we’re going to come to an agreement on a contract,” he said.