City manager candidate Tracey Cordes, right, chats with Older Persons Advisory Committee Chair Carol Kapusnak, left, and Library Board member Dan Frezza, center.

City manager candidate Tracey Cordes, right, chats with Older Persons Advisory Committee Chair Carol Kapusnak, left, and Library Board member Dan Frezza, center.

Photo by Sarah Purlee


St. Clair Shores City Council considers 4 candidates for city manager

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 21, 2019

 City manager candidate Matthew Coppler, center left, talks with residents, as well as City Councilman John Caron, center right, and St. Clair Shores Fire Chief James Piper.

City manager candidate Matthew Coppler, center left, talks with residents, as well as City Councilman John Caron, center right, and St. Clair Shores Fire Chief James Piper.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

 City manager candidate Dennis Champine speaks to community members and staff at a meet-and-greet held for the four candidates June 15.

City manager candidate Dennis Champine speaks to community members and staff at a meet-and-greet held for the four candidates June 15.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

 City manager candidate John Light speaks to those gathered at the St. Clair Shores Golf Club.

City manager candidate John Light speaks to those gathered at the St. Clair Shores Golf Club.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — In a grueling four-hour session, the City Council heard from candidates for city manager from as near as Center Line and as far away as Des Plaines, Illinois.

Tracey Cordes, John Light, Dennis Champine and Matthew Coppler were each interviewed for one hour by the City Council, and for one hour by St. Clair Shores staff members June 15, with the City Council’s decision on who would be the next city manager expected to come June 19.

As of June 18, however, Mayor Kip Walby and the City Council had delayed that decision, stating that they needed more time to consider the candidates’ qualifications, as well as to go over the input provided by staff and the public, who were invited to meet the candidates at an evening session that same day.

As of press time June 20, no new date to select the manager had been set.

In her interview with the City Council, Cordes, who has been the county administrator for Gratiot County for the past three years, said that she feels that customer service and collaboration are core values for her as a manager.

“I don’t try to do anything by myself,” she said. “None of us can operate successfully without the others.”

She told the City Council that she has experience negotiating contracts, making hard budget decisions and helping residents with change.

“In the end, for a community to thrive, it must change,” she said. “They will feel they were part of the discussion.”

However, she said that “in your list of priorities, citizen complaints come first.”

Light, who has worked in the city of Des Plaines, Illinois, since 2016, said that he is eager to bring his children back to Michigan. Being a leader means creating a series of partnerships and earning trust, he said.

“To make a great community, you have to get the community involved,” he said during his interview. “One of the difficult things (is) balancing and maintaining some traditions with change.”

He said he is confident that he would be able to learn the operations of all the different entities that the city runs, from the golf course to the pool to the banquet centers and the marinas.

Light said some ideas that he has incorporated in other cities include riding along with a plow driver and a police officer, because he feels that they know most everything that is going on in the city, along with instituting some dinner sessions for the City Council to have members work together better.

Council members asked each candidate about topics ranging from parks and recreation to resident concerns, how they work toward balancing the budget, how they deal with department heads in the city and manage city staff, and how they would communicate with council members in regard to resident concerns.

Champine is the candidate most familiar with the city of St. Clair Shores, as he is currently the city manager of Center Line and his family “has a history” in St. Clair Shores.

Although he acknowledged that he is already friends with some staff members in St. Clair Shores, he said that they are “consummate professionals” and that the relationships would not be a problem.

Finances were troubled when he arrived in the city of Center Line, he said, but part of being in city government is having to make “those tough decisions.”

“The taxpayers are our bosses, so what are they looking for? It starts there, from my perspective,” he said.

Champine said that between being city manager in Center Line and working in Van Dyke Public Schools, he has experience on both sides of the negotiating table when it comes to union contracts. He said he is impressed with St. Clair Shores’ financial position but thinks that more could be done to address beach closures and sewer discharges from neighboring counties.

Coppler, the city manager of Lincoln Park since 2015, said that he has worked in communities of all sizes.

“I love the engagement in being a city manager,” he said.

He said that in working with city employees, he feels that they are “in the same boat.”

“In the end, we should have the same goal: The community is prosperous,” he said.

Coppler said that he has experience in capital improvements, community planning and improving the roads.

“Working with elected officials, it’s important that they all have a shared vision,” he said.

A budget is a policy document, Coppler said, that lays out the city’s priorities. The important piece of that, he said, is planning for the future so that facilities and programs the city has now can remain in place for the future.

“Good flow of communication is a vital part of our relationship,” he said.

Current St. Clair Shores City Manager Mike Smith is set to retire in August.

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