City picks MML for manager search

GLADSTONE — The Gladstone City Commission took a hard look at hiring during its meeting Monday night by deciding the city would contract for a city manager search with the Michigan Municipal League (MML) and establish a hiring policy that favors hiring city residents.

It has been seven months since the city commission voted to terminate former City Manger Darla Falcon, and commissioners have debated the pros and cons of working with MML for the majority of that time. Commissioner Steve Viau, in particular, has promoted the idea of working with Lordstone Corporation, an executive search firm operated by Gladstone resident Jeff Ketchum, instead of working with MML.

While the commission, and in particular Viau, have been in frequent contact with Ketchum, Ketchum has not attended any of the commission’s meetings, including a special meeting on Jan. 16 the commission set specifically to meet with him. Commissioners had asked him to present a proposal that could be compared to the written proposal provided by MML, but Ketchum neither submitted a proposal nor attended the special meeting.

“I asked him why he didn’t come. He said because what you requested for him to do he couldn’t do that. He could not come here and give you a proposal because he felt we weren’t ready in our game plan for hiring a city manager to get a proposal at this time,” said Viau. “I asked him to come tonight. I said, ‘Can you come to our meeting and just speak for five minutes on all the stuff you talked about to me today?’ He said he had too much stuff going on with attorneys and doing some other stuff that he just couldn’t make it tonight.”

Based on prior conversations with the city commission, as well as written correspondence, Ketchum did not intend a city manager search that was comparable to MML’s services to begin with. Instead, he hoped to guide the city commission in operating a search of its own.

Ketchum’s plan would have included the hire of a consultant to work on the commission’s boundaries with city staff, unifying leadership at all levels of government, identifying prospective challenges the new city manager will face, and identifying the historical and prospective costs related to a mis-hire or turnover in the position.

“I think we need a turnkey solution though I don’t think we have the time to run a manager search. We need somebody to do it for us and we need somebody that’s going to step up and tell us this is what I can do for us and do it, and I think he’s coming from a different perspective,” said Commissioner Joe Thompson.

Viau continued to advocate for the city working with Lordstone Monday, citing personal conversations with Ketchum indicating services Lordstone could offer the city would cost less than the $19,000 that MML has stated would be the maximum cost of contracting with the Municipal League.

A motion made by Viau to continue considering Lordstone Corporation died for lack of a second, and the commission voted to pursue a contract with MML for the city manger search. Viau voted against the motion, but at the end of the meeting said that he was on board for future work with MML.

“I just want to clarify something. I voted ‘no’ on the city manager search (with) MML — I’m on board with MML, I just wanted to get a different avenue to get our city manger. I don’t want any misrepresentation that I’m against getting a city manager. I’m on board now with the MML,” said Viau.

The commission also voted Monday to add language to the personnel hiring policy that would give an edge to Gladstone residents. The policy now reads:

“The city of Gladstone shall give preference to qualified Gladstone residents in hiring for all city employment. For seasonal employment, residents will be given preference. For all other positions, the resident will be given preference when all other qualifications are equal.”

Commissioner Joe Thompson, who drafted the revision to the document, had proposed a different revision at a prior meeting, but some city staff felt the language would have left the city forced to hire under-qualified applicants for skilled positions. Thompson’s newest version of the policy, which was approved by all city commissioners and supported by present city staff, is not anticipated to cause issues with under-qualified hires.

“It kind of takes care of that thing where you don’t want the least qualified brain surgeon just because he resides next door,” said Thompson, explaining how the clause would be used to break ties between equally qualified skilled candidates.

In other business, the commission voted to approve a purchase agreement to sell the former Gladstone Square building to pharmacist David DeMerse, who intends to open a pharmacy in the building for $64,000. Viau voted against the agreement, stating that he was not against selling the property, but he had not received  a copy of the purchase agreement in his email and was uncomfortable voting to approve a document he did not read.