Source: Sherman Publications

Red flags in city manager search

by Mary Keck

April 03, 2013

For two former public officials, Clarkston’s search for a new city manager wasn’t nearly clear enough.

“It’s about openness and transparency and letting the people of the Village of Clarkston have their say,” said Mark Petterson, former Independence Township Trustee.

“If any committee should have been formed, it should have come from the council, not the Mayor [Joe Luginski],” said Former City Councilman Chuck Inabnit. “The mayor has no more power than anyone else who sits on the council.”

After consulting with City Attorney Tom Ryan, Luginski stated the Selection Committee only made recommendations to the council, did not have a quorum for a voting body, and did not vote; therefore, there was no violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“Before we put an ad in the paper, before we got one resume, before anything official was done, the Selection committee was approved by City Council at a meeting,” Luginski explained.

Petterson said the council “did not involve the citizens, and that’s what upsets me the most. I think their selection process right off the bat was a failure. They are required to abide by the Open Meetings Act.”

Petterson feels the City Council violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) while in the process of hiring a new City Manager because the council did not choose who would serve on the Selection Committee and they met before current City Manager Dennis Ritter announced his retirement publicly.

The Selection Committee is made up of Former Mayor Sharron Catallo, Councilman Eric Haven, Mayor Joe Luginski, and Ritter.

According to the OMA, “all meetings of a public body shall be open to the public and shall be held in a place available to the general public.” A “public body” is defined as any “local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council, which is empowered by state constitution, statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, or rule to exercise governmental or proprietary authority or perform a governmental or proprietary function.”

After Ritter announced his retirement at a City Council meeting on January 14, Luginski told the council, “we formed a kind of behind the scenes, small committee, search committee if you will, which included Dennis, myself, [Councilman] Eric Haven, and [Former Mayor] Sharron Catallo, and we’ve met half a dozen times or so over the past couple of months.”

Then, Luginski proceeded to hand out a packet of information the Selection Committee had compiled. The packet included job descriptions, interview questions, and a timeline for the process of hiring a new city manager. At the time, Council Member Carol Eberhardt had not applied for the position; she is now one of the two final candidates for City Manager.

At the next council meeting on January 28, the City Council voted to approve the City Manager search procedures and Selection Committee; however, the committee’s meeting dates and times were not posted on the City’s website or published in The Clarkston News.

From Petterson’s point of view, the meeting times should have been announced so the public could be a part of the process of choosing a new City Manager and the City Council and citizens should have chosen who would serve on the Selection Committee.

“They should have involved all of the citizens of the Village of Clarkston instead of just picking their choice few people,” Petterson said.

Luginski said he chose members for the Selection Committee based on their experience.

The OMA does not state how committee members should be chosen, but Clarkston City Charter 4.24, states “the mayor, with the advice and consent of the Council, may from time to time, appoint such committees or boards as are deemed appropriate to advise and consult with them, and with appropriate departments, regarding municipal activity.”

While Councilman Mike Sabol said he did not have a say in who was chosen for the Selection Committee, he “felt the choices for the Selection Committee were very good.”

He also points out that the Selection Committee “didn’t deny the council the opportunity to be included.”

“As soon as they had resumes, I got to see them all,” Sabol added. Every city council member saw the resumes of all thirteen applicants, except Eberhardt.

At the City Council’s meeting on March 11, Luginski informed the council of the four candidates the Selection Committee recommended for interviews, and during the discussion members of the council chose to interview one more applicant.

The City ran public notice in The Clarkston News, March 13, and five candidates were interviewed at a special meeting of the City Council on March 16, with two chosen.

The final candidates are Eberhardt, who currently serves on the council, and Andrew Potter, a former Oak Park Public Safety Officer.

From Inabnit’s point of view, Eberhardt’s candidacy is “a clear conflict of interest.” He feels the council “should not have accepted her application.” Because she is a member of the council, Inabnit believes the hiring process “was stacked from the get go in favor of [Eberhardt]” and other candidates “didn’t even have a chance.”

According to Luginski, if Eberhardt is chosen and her reference and background checks are approved, she will need to resign from her elected position and will not be allowed to serve on the council while being employed as City Manager.

At every Council meeting where candidates were discussed, Eberhardt recused herself from the discussion by leaving the room. She has not voted on any applicants.

“She is in no way informed about anything anymore than any other candidate that’s going through this process,” Luginski said.

If Eberhardt is hired, the council may need to vote for an exception to City Charter, which states in section 4.18, “except where authorized by law or five members of the Council, elected officers shall not hold any appointed city office or city employment during the term for which they were elected, and former elected officers shall not hold any compensated appointed city office or city employment until one year after the expiration of their term in office.”

Eberhardt’s selection as City Manager is not a foregone conclusion, however.

“I think both her and Andy Potter bring value to the table, so I don’t think anybody has made up their mind yet including myself,” Luginski assured.

Both candidates will give presentations at the next City Council meeting on April 8 at 7 p.m. at the Village Hall, and the council will likely select the candidate they wish to hire at the meeting.