Royal Oak city manager announces retirement

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 18, 2019

 Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson recently announced his intention to retire after nearly 14 years of working for the city. The City Commission plans to hire an executive search firm to find a replacement.

Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson recently announced his intention to retire after nearly 14 years of working for the city. The City Commission plans to hire an executive search firm to find a replacement.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson recently announced his retirement from the city after nearly 14 years. He has held the position of city manager for the past decade, and before that, served as the finance director.

On June 10, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously voted to establish a three-person committee to work with the city’s Human Resources Department to develop a request for proposals for an executive search firm to hire Johnson’s replacement.

The committee consists of Commissioners Melanie Macey and Kim Gibbs and Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas, as suggested by Commissioner Paula Paruch, since they are not up for reelection in November.

“I would like to make it as apolitical as possible,” Paruch said.

The discussion of next steps was added to the agenda at the request of Paruch, Douglas and Commissioner Kyle DuBuc, since the hiring of a city manager is often a monthslong process.

“I think (the search) needs to be inclusive of as much of the community as we can possibly get into it, but I think we need to at least start the process,” Paruch said. “We’re very grateful for the service Mr. Johnson has given us over the years.”

In his notice, Johnson gave the tentative date of June 30 as his last day as a city employee, but added that he is willing to stay on as a consultant or in a contractual position.

DuBuc said he would like to see the city conduct a nationwide search.

“(I think it would) be appropriate, just given the caliber of our city and the number of exciting things we have going on,” DuBuc said. “It’s a really choice job for someone that wants to come in and take the reins from Mr. Johnson.”

During the June 10 meeting, Johnson agreed to work with City Attorney David Gillam to provide a recommendation for his post-retirement work for the commission’s approval.

“We’re very appreciative of all the work that Don has done and the accomplishments that  he’s achieved,” Mayor Michael Fournier said.

Johnson, a 67-year-old resident of Wayne, said he felt like it was time that he hung up his hat and that he is at a point where he is ready to slow down a bit, although he said he still intends to find part-time work, possibly as a consultant or teacher.

Prior to working for the city of Royal Oak, he said, he had his own computer software company, and before that, he worked in municipal government for most of his career.

“I’m going to be 68 at my next birthday, so I think it’s about time,” he said. “All of my friends that are about my age have been retired for a long time.”

Johnson said he looks forward to spending more time for himself pursuing recreation and hobbies. He has a sailboat that he said hasn’t touched water in two years, and he is also learning how to fly an airplane.

“This job is kind of an all-consuming job because you’re never really off duty,” he said.

He said he is most proud of resolving Royal Oak’s financial problems. When he came in, he said, the city was “flat broke.” And while he said the civic center project has been a “battle,” it is steadily progressing toward fruition.

“It’s been fun most of the time,” Johnson said. “There is always something happening in Royal Oak. I think we’re probably one of if not the most interesting city in Michigan.”

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

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