Government and Human Resources

Grand Rapids re-opens search for city manager

February 7, 2018
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Grand Rapids City Hall Kent County Administration La Grande Vitesse Calder Plaza
“La Grande Vitesse” by Alexander Calder stands in Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, in front of Grand Rapids City Hall, top, and the Kent County Administration building, bottom. Photo via fb.com

The Grand Rapids City Commission has decided to start over in its search for a new city manager.

The commission voted unanimously at its Tuesday night meeting to re-open the national search following a motion by First Ward City Commissioner Jon O’Connor and a second by Second Ward Commissioner Joe Jones.

“Our city needs and deserves a city manager who can help us reach our highest success,” O’Connor said. “We need to foster an environment that enables us to attract the best candidates. We can do this through a process that is fully agreed upon by the commission and supported by our community.”

The commission voted to re-post the position and meet within 30 days to re-evaluate the process, engage the community and discuss an approach for moving forward.

O’Connor’s motion came during Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting, as Mayor Rosalynn Bliss called for discussion of the second-round interviews of three city manager finalists earlier in the day.

The Grand Rapids City Commission has been working with the executive search firm GovHR over the past six months to find a replacement for Greg Sundstrom, the former city manager who retired last week.

The city and search firm announced on Jan. 30 they had selected three finalists out of 61 applicants — Pontiac Deputy Mayor Jane Bais-DiSessa, Port Huron City Manager James Freed and Arlington, Virginia Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten.

On Monday, the city held a candidate forum at Wealthy Theatre, where the city commission and community members quizzed the finalists on topics such as racial equity, community and police relations, affordable housing and whether they would live in the city if hired as its manager, etc.

On Tuesday, the city conducted a public three-hour second-round interview process.

Bliss said the finalists had “a breadth of experience” but did not meet the city’s needs.

“Being city manager of our amazing city is no easy task,” Bliss said. “We are a growing city with unique neighborhoods, engaged residents and a robust business community. That is why we need to make sure we have the best of the best when it comes to candidates.

“I have a lot of faith in the commission and in the collective wisdom around the table and in our community. We will find the right person.”

In December, Bliss had told the Business Journal her top priority for the first two months of the year would be replacing Sundstrom, and she hoped the commission would select a leader by mid-February.

She said, though, that she sensed “a divide” in public opinion during the community forum Monday night.

“At a time like this, we have to have really strong candidates where we don’t have a divide,” she said.

During the commission’s discussion Tuesday night, Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said she believes the search process had been too “rushed” to make an informed decision.

“We’re not necessarily ready,” Lenear said.

Bliss said the commission will work diligently before its next meeting to re-evaluate its process given the urgency of the hiring decision.

Eric DeLong, deputy city manager, will continue serving as interim city manager until Sundstrom’s successor takes office.

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