November 17, 2017 12:00 a.m.
Since I am not quite sure of what the publication schedule is for the shortened Thanksgiving week, I thought that I’d share a few notes of thankfulness this week. Since I am granted the opportunity to write each week, I owe an early thanks to both the News Leader and the Fernandina Observer.
Most obvious, though, is for my family. I live with a wonderful partner, Lisa Fisher. She works for the University of Florida at a satellite medical facility (technically securing her job here in Florida a few hours before I completed my interviews here). Between the two of us, we have five wonderful daughters: Lisa’s two are teachers (Spanish and elementary special education), my oldest is an administrative assistant for the University of Michigan’s patent office, and my twins are college sophomores- one studies nursing and the other, criminal justice.
I am also thankful for the exceptional opportunity to serve this community. As I near the end of my second full year here, it feels comfortably longer than two years, but it has been a lengthy and exciting career to get here. Having served in several communities for over twenty years, I have worked in varied political and geographical settings. I started in Lexington, Michigan, a small (pop. 800) Great Lakes community. The Village Council, led by Village President Ed Jarosz, gave me the freedom to learn my new craft of municipal management. Despite having an advanced education in public administration, classroom work simply doesn’t prepare you for the daily onslaught of tasks and issues that roll like unrelenting ocean waves every single day: neighborhood chickens, garbage collection, annexation, public safety, water and sewer services, personnel, union negotiations, festivals, intergovernment relations, and on and on. The most significant project during my tenure was the total reconstruction of the village-owned and –operated mobile home park. Lexington was a great place to grow.
I moved onto Linden, Michigan, a Flint, Michigan, suburb of about 3,500 people. It would be here that I spent my longest tenure as a city manager- nearly eight and a half years. Mayor William Rose, a middle school government teacher, led that community for most of the time I served that community. The most time-consuming projects in that community were a series of road reconstruction projects including Broad Street, the city’s primary east-west road.
When I left Linden, it was for the wrong reason- I went to Dowagiac, Michigan, a slightly larger rural community in southwestern Michigan. It paid more, and, in public service, that is the wrong reason for a career move. After six months, both the City Council and I realized that it was not a good match, so we awkwardly parted.
I returned to the Flint, Michigan, area to a different suburb, Davison. My time in the Flint area corresponded with many of the key events that culminated in the failure of the Flint water system: I was familiar with the players and the decisions that came to prominence many years later. My time in Davison also corresponded to the economic downturn and local government fiscal challenges. In a unique effort to address those fiscal challenges and other political challenges, an innovative effort was made to combine Davison and Davison Township into one government. The political obstacles proved to be too much, and the effort faltered. My relationship with the City Council deteriorated for several reasons and, despite general support from the public, I was fired (four members of the City Commission were subsequently recalled as a result).
After interviewing in communities across the country (literally from Maine to Texas to Alaska), I served in Winchester, Connecticut. That community was, by far, the most politically explosive community in which I have served. The entire seven-member board was elected every two years, leading to overwhelming swings in personalities and policies. One board member made a concerted effort to remove me from office, but an intervening election had her removed instead. It was during her efforts that I considered moving on- and that eventually led me here (although after her removal, I had some of the best relations with that board). I remain close to the Mayor, Candy Perez (who has twice visited me here). The most notable event while in Winchester was the discovery, arrest, and conviction of the town’s Finance Director for embezzlement.
So now I am most thankful to be here. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with a dedicated and cordial City Commission (and I expect that will continue with the upcoming changes to the Commission). I have the pleasure of working with a professional staff, from well-educated and long-tenured Directors to the most junior staff that quietly, invisibly, and usually unheralded, provides all city services. Their efforts during and after Hurricane Irma returned the City to normalcy in a remarkably short time. While we always try to do better, the recent resident survey illustrated a high level of satisfaction for city services. It is more because of what those staff do rather than I that keep the city functional and residents happy. Although many think otherwise, I have a great job and I truly enjoy what I do. Thank you.
We live in a great place- sunrises and sunsets, beaches and trees, downtown and natural parks, and friends. Of course we still have issues to address, but those issues shouldn’t overshadow the goodness of our family, our community, and our nation.
Be safe and have a happy Thanksgiving.