April 17, 2013 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Darwin McClary is Lake Orion's new interim manager, replacing Paul Zelanak.
McClary will serve as the interim manager for an open-ended period of time while the Council takes recommendations from their hiring subcommittee for a full-time manager. The application deadline was April 15.
McClary was selected from the Michigan Municipal League's Interim Manager list. Of the 11 candidates listed on the website, three were considered for hire, and McClary was the only candidate interviewed.
"Out of the three he was the candidate that could get in with our timeline," said Ken Van Portfliet, president of the council. "We were hoping to move fast and get some overlap."
McClary, who is from Oxford and was previously known as Darwin Parks, had been terminated from some of his prior positions.
He also served as Oxford's village manager during a period in the 1990s.
He was terminated from his previous two positions as City Manager for Garden City and Eastpointe, and also as City Administrator for Highland Park and Standish.
"I have not been made aware of that as a fact, I had heard a rumor," said Van Portfliet when asked if he knew McClary had been fired from four positions before he was hired. "It will be noted."
The Michigan Municipal League states on its website, "The League will not conduct reference or background checks or perform any other employment screening related to this list. "
McClary said the communities he walked into previously were very challenging communities.
"I think the only thing I can say to you is that I think there's a lot more that goes on politically in these large cities behind the scenes than what the public sees," he said. "Sometimes as a manager who is ethical, and who believes very strongly in the rule of law, sometimes you butt up against some of those politics."
McClary said he was fired from Standish for a residency issue—he lived outside of the city— and from Eastpointe from a budgetary perspective. In Highland Park he was competing with another administrator, and the Garden City termination was for a multitude of reasons.
Some included McClary's procedures for eliminating a growing budget deficit. McClary and the city council changed the rubbish collection program from a millage to a fee based. They also began specially assessing the community for street lighting, among other changes.
"You have to have streetlights and you have to pay for them, so what do you do?" he asked. "It wasn't necessarily a very popular thing, but we did close our budget gap by a half million dollars."
In his first year at Garden City a citizen filed a complaint about two of McClary's councilmen saying they were engaged in a business relationship with one of their city contractors, a conflict of interest to the citizen. McClary followed the city attorney's recommendation to let the city council investigate it.
"Those two council members were not happy with me that I did anything with it," he said. "One of them didn't talk to me for the next year and a half."
McClary said this individual was very powerful in the community.
He explained that he would not compromise his professional integrity nor professional code of ethics for anybody, staff or council member, and would do it again.
"That's how we build trust, you do everything in the sunshine, to the extent that you possibly can."
Without the Garden City councilmen present to defend their reasons for firing him, McClary did not feel it was fair to disclose all of the issues.
"It's not productive to go back and forth, but is there a lot more to it? Yeah. There always is."
Members of the Garden City Council did not return phone calls to comment.
McClary does not view these terminations in a negative light.
"You take it in stride, but I'll tell you, I've loved the challenges that I've had there, and it's helped me to grow in my knowledge and skills as a city manager by accepting those positions."
Zelanak said hiring an interim was in Lake Orion's best interest.
"I think it's important to have an interim person here to continue and carry out the activities taking place while council is in the process of hiring a manager," he said, noting McClary's background in budgeting and finance, as well as his tech savy approach.
On his last day Zelenak introduced McClary to the village operations, ongoing projects, and plans for the upcoming year.
After lunch in the downtown with Van Portfliet, they toured the village and McClary was introduced to village employees.