City pleased with manager search

August 3, 2009
Print
Text Size:
A A
The first candidate eliminated during last week’s search for a new city manager was described by city commissioners as a charming gentleman who is genuine, thoughtful, sincere, charismatic and bright. They said he also possessed strong presentation skills. 

But commissioners also thought that Benjamin Hughes, the former city administrator of Racine, Wis., for two years, didn’t have enough experience for the position, and the city couldn’t afford the time for him to get up to speed.

“He will be a city manager of a great American city, and I hope I live long enough to see that,” said Mayor George Heartwell.

Commissioners described the second candidate that was eliminated as having a good approach to diversity; as being smart, personable, professional and confident, and a skilled communicator. But they also said Topeka City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr., dodged some questions during the interview sessions, lacked technical knowledge and also presented himself as a “change agent” to a city that isn’t looking for a lot of change.

“I’m not sure he would be a good manager of daily operations,” said Rosalynn Bliss, 2nd Ward city commissioner.

With the two out-of-town candidates out of the running, the commission’s choices came down to two familiar names, and Acting Deputy City Manager Greg Sundstrom nipped Interim City Manager Eric Delong for the city’s top executive post by one vote.

Commissioners saw DeLong as being smart and having good technical knowledge, as professional, dependable and responsive, a creative thinker, and someone who has compiled a good track record, especially during the most recent round of budget meetings and with economic development matters. But they also thought he wasn’t spontaneous during the interview process, relying too much on his notes when he answered, and that he has dug his heels in too deeply on some issues in his time with the city. One commissioner said DeLong didn’t seem to have a vision for the city.

“I just didn’t get that from him. It was all very technical,” said Bliss.

Commissioners described Sundstrom as an organized and skilled administrator who shares credit with others, is a genuine and honest person who cares about the city and is an excellent ambassador to the community. About the only criticism Sundstrom drew was that he, too, relied on documents during the interviews.

“What’s not to like about Greg?” said Heartwell.

Third Ward Commissioner James White noted that Sundstrom handled the city’s labor negotiations with the bargaining units, talks that called for employee concessions, and the interview group that included union presidents and department heads chose him as the top candidate for the post.

“I think Greg would be an excellent city manager for the city of Grand Rapids,” said James Jendrasiak, 1st Ward commissioner.

The interview group comprised of community leaders selected DeLong as the best choice and ranked Sundstrom third of the four candidates.

Heartwell, 3rd Ward Commissioner Elias Lumpkins and 1st Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski backed DeLong for the post. Bliss, White, Jendrasiak and 2nd Ward Commissioner David LaGrand supported Sundstrom.

“I have a slight preference for Greg,” said LaGrand. “All I can say is, it’s an incredibly tough decision.”

Commissioners then took a symbolic second vote for a show of unity and unanimously chose Sundstrom to become the city’s new manager.

“I think he knows the organization inside and out. I think he is very, very capable of being city manager,” said Bliss.

Sundstrom started with the city in 1986 as an administrative assistant in the streets and sanitation department before becoming an administrative analyst in 1993. He was made an assistant to the city manager in 1998 after spending two years as an administrative services officer. In 1999, he was promoted to assistant city manager.

Sundstrom served as acting chief financial officer from 2002 until 2004, when Scott Buhrer joined the city, and was named chief services officer in 2006. Since January, he has held the title of acting deputy city manager, while also holding the chief services officer post.

DeLong was named interim city manager in January, following the retirement of former City Manager Kurt Kimball. DeLong was named deputy city manager, the city’s No. 2 executive position, in 1999. He joined the city in 1995 as an assistant city manager of public works after managing the Village of Spring Lake for a dozen years.

“Greg and the commissioners have been quite open about making me aware that I’ve got a significant role to play. So I’ve got a lot of work to do in Grand Rapids. I’ve been engaged in that for a while now and I’m looking forward to seeing that through,” said DeLong, who reassumed his previous title of deputy city manager.

“Greg is the city manager and he has asked me to be his deputy. We will have a good and thorough transition.”

After getting off to a bad start last spring, commissioners and department heads were pleased with the executive search process that was organized by Chuck Anderson, CEO of the Dallas-based Waters Consulting Group, which charged the city $25,000 for the service.

“We got our money’s worth out of this search. We have four great options here,” said LaGrand.

The process began with the candidates meeting the public, and Heartwell said 114 showed up last Monday to quiz the four. Then each candidate went through three separate interviews with commissioners, community leaders and union heads and city staff on Tuesday.

“I thought it was a good process,” said Ingrid Scott-Weekley, director of the city’s equal opportunity department. “It was a very well thought-out process. We had some very qualified candidates.”

Recent Articles by David Czurak

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus