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Royal Oak hedges in on new city manager

Position could be filled by spring

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 17, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — On Feb. 10, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously selected six prospective candidates to move on to a first round of interviews for the position of city manager.

Of those, City Attorney and Interim City Manager David Gillam said five wished to continue on with the process. The council identified the finalists by a number assigned to each, based on criteria and alphabetical order, for the purpose of confidentiality.

Gillam said the city’s executive search warranted 114 applications and 111 résumés from both local and national candidates.

On Sept. 23, the city hired GovHR as the executive search firm to assist in hiring a new city manager at a cost not to exceed $19,500. GovHR Vice President James Vettraino, a Michigan resident and former Rochester city manager, is the consultant overseeing the process.

The catalyst of the process was the departure of former City Manager Don Johnson, who retired on June 30 after nearly 14 years with the city. He held the position of city manager for the past decade, and before that, served as the finance director.

Johnson briefly entertained the notion of returning on a contractual basis until the city could find a replacement, but the city denied his proposed flat rate of $18,000 per month July 29, and he subsequently rejected the city’s counteroffer of $14,000.

On Feb. 3, the Mount Clemens City Commission unanimously voted to offer that city’s position of city manager to Johnson. Johnson was one of six candidates for the open position. If he accepts the offer, the Mount Clemens City Commission could vote on his contract this month.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue, who also holds the title of assistant city manager, took up the mantle of acting city manager until the City Commission unanimously appointed Gillam as interim city manager Aug. 12.

The commission voted to add an addendum to Gillam’s employment agreement to compensate him for six months, unless mutually extended by both parties, at a monthly rate of $1,500.

The Royal Oak City Commission met in closed session before its regular public meeting Feb. 10 to discuss the recommendations for city manager put forth by Vettraino.

The identities of the final candidates will become public once the city begins the interview process. Gillam said the first round of interviews, which will be held at a public meeting, could take place as early as Feb. 22.

Several commissioners complimented Vettraino for the quantity of quality applicants that applied.

“We knew that because of the way Royal Oak has been going the last couple of years — its financial status and the exciting things going on in the neighborhoods and the downtown and so on — that we would get good applicants, but we really, really, really got some fantastic applicants,” Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Paruch said. “It’ll be an interesting process to go through the interview process from this point forward.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said the city had to choose from a large pool of high-caliber candidates.

“The consultant was very much worth the investment,” DuBuc said. “There was some scuttlebutting about that process, whether or not it was worth it.”

Mayor Michael Fournier said the city’s employee groups and community members will have the opportunity to weigh in and provide their thoughts, input and suggestions as the commission whittles down the candidates.

Gillam said the exact process moving forward will be dictated by the City Commission.

After the first round of interviews, he said, officials have discussed possibly performing a second round of interviews with the top three candidates; however, the commission may feel comfortable making a decision without another round.

He said officials also discussed hosting an open house prior to the follow-up interviews, so employees, board and committee members, and members of the public could meet the candidates.

“It all depends on how the City Commission wants to lay it out,” Gillam said.

As far as timeline, he said if the city completes all of the interviews by the end of this month and the City Commission indicates whom it would like to offer the position to, the city would negotiate a contract and ideally approve it in March.

“Then, at that point, I would assume whoever the city decides it wants to hire as the next city manager will provide notice wherever they are, so if we get all the contract details worked out in March — I’d say maybe a month’s notice could be reasonable for a city manager to give — that puts us in maybe late April or early May (for a start date).”

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