Royal Oak city attorney appointed interim city manager

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 20, 2019

 City Attorney David Gillam sits in the Royal Oak City Commission chambers after being appointed interim city manager Aug. 12.

City Attorney David Gillam sits in the Royal Oak City Commission chambers after being appointed interim city manager Aug. 12.

Photo provided by Judy Davids

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ROYAL OAK — On Aug. 12, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to add an addendum to City Attorney David Gillam’s employment agreement that he also serve as interim city manager.

According to the approved contract drafted by the city’s labor counsel, the addendum will continue for six months, unless mutually extended by both parties, at a rate of $1,500 per month.

The city manager search subcommittee, consisting of Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas, Commissioner Melanie Macey and Commissioner Kim Gibbs, submitted the recommendation to the City Commission after its Aug. 7 meeting.

“We had received an offer from our city attorney to serve as the interim city manager,” Douglas said. “He is currently a contract employee, so this would just be an amendment to his contract.”

The city is currently in the process of searching for a new city manager after former City Manager Don Johnson retired June 30. Proposals from executive search firms were due Aug. 6.

Johnson briefly entertained the idea of returning to the city as a contractual employee, but the City Commission voted against accepting his offer of $18,000 per month, and in turn, Johnson rejected the commission’s counteroffer of $14,000 per month.

Mayor Michael Fournier said that the cost to retain Gillam is not $1,500 per month compared to Johnson’s asking price, since his new responsibilities will create a void in the city’s legal department that will need to be filled by hired attorneys.

“In terms of prosecutions and the district court, the proposal that Mr. Gillam has suggested is that he will draw from the pool of attorneys that we are now using for indigent defense. They typically work at $100 per hour, and he, of course, will choose people who are not already actively involved in defenses that we’re prosecuting,” Douglas said. “But he feels there is a sufficient pool of talent at that price point to be able to cover the work for the court.”

She added that the cost of Gillam splitting his workload between the two posts and hiring someone else to fill in for him could amount to $126,000 in the six months of his contract.

“I think we have faith in Mr. Gillam to use his own judgment to choose those substitutes wisely and economically, but we are trusting him with those decisions, and the committee is 100% positive that we can trust him to make those decisions in the best interest of the city,” Douglas said. 

Macey seconded Douglas’ motion to appoint Gillam as interim city attorney. He will take over from Corrigan O’Donohue, the city’s police chief and assistant city manager, who in the absence of a city manager filled in as acting city manager.

“I’m so grateful for Mr. Gillam stepping up into this role. This is a really big job, and I think Mr. O’Donohue was ready to get out of it,” Macey said. “This was a tricky issue. We needed someone to do this and we need someone we felt like we could trust who could step into it quickly and competently.”

Fournier praised Gillam as a “true asset” to the city, highlighting his “great legal mind” and calm demeanor. Gillam retired from the city in 2014 and then returned in 2016 in his current contractual position.

“I think he’ll be a good interim city manager as we move forward in a permanent search. I’m glad that part of this agreement does provide for the ability to hire the appropriate legal staff and expertise that we need to keep that department running during this process,” he said. “This isn’t a big savings. This is about getting the right person in the right job at the right time to make sure that we don’t have six months of downtime here.”

While O’Donohue served as acting city manager, the city named Gillam as the second alternate, and Gillam took over the duties when O’Donohue went on vacation.

“It all just made sense, locally and in terms that I’ve got history with the city and am familiar with a lot of things going on here with the city,” Gillam said. “We’re moving forward as quickly as we can with the process of finding a permanent city manager.”

He said he was happy to step in to fill the role immediately instead of potentially bringing in someone from the outside who wasn’t familiar with the city and who would have to be identified and interviewed, causing further delay.

Gillam said the city hopefully would decide on a search firm to help with the permanent city manager search within the next month, and then it would be an approximately three- to six-month process to implement a new hire.

“I appreciate the confidence the City Commission showed in me. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the staff and employees and people in the community I’ve talked to so far,” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a team effort. The department heads are all working hard to maintain the level of service for residents that they deserve and are accustomed to.”

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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