Saline City Council Interviews Lone Finalist for City Manager Position, Decision Expected Monday

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Saline City Council will meet Monday to discuss the possibility of hiring Colleen O’Toole as the next city manager.

O’Toole, manager of the City of Durand, was the only candidate interviewed during the second round of questions Thursday evening at city hall. Council interviewed four candidates last week and Monday decided to interview O’Toole and Todd Mutchler, Northville Township Supervisor. Mutchler, however, decided to withdraw his name from the process.

The questions council asked were developed by Mayor Brian Marl and members of council and vetted by the city’s HR department and staff.

“The city manager’s position is the most critical staff position that we as council are responsible for filling,” Marl said at the outset of the meeting, before telling O’Toole he was not in favor of offering a contract during this meeting. Marl said it would be his recommendation to meet as a council and make a decision then.

After the interview, Marl motioned to postpone the consideration of hiring O’Toole, suggesting council take up the matter Monday. Councillor Dean Girbach seconded the motion, which passed 5-2.

Councillors Christen Mitchell and Kevin Camero-Sulak, who advanced a motion to hire O’Toole at Monday’s council meeting, voted against Marl’s motion.

O'Toole has been the manager of Durand, a city of 3,400 people in Shiawassee County, since February of 2017. Before that, O'Toole worked in economic development, in a business start-up, and as chief operating officer of software start-up.

O'Toole earned her master's degree in public administration from DePaul University and her bachelor's degree in international relations from Miami University.

O’Toole answered several questions from council. Answering a question posed by Councillor Jim Dell’Orco, she talked about her role as city manager.

“I view my role as a city manager as the executor of the vision of the collective council,” O’Toole said. She said she’d use one-on-one meetings to get to know the city staff.

Asked about how she would present budgets to council, O’Toole said she would recommend priority-based budgeting by her second year. She also spoke of the need for increasing competitiveness in bidding processes.

Councillor Jack Ceo asked about Durand’s experience with an administrative consent order with EGLE. He also asked what specific steps she’s taken to improve water and wastewater services in Durand.

O’Toole said when she began in Durand, the city had been overlooking certain state requirements of an EGLA consent order for 18 years. Durand worked with city attorneys and the state to renegotiate the consent order that spelled out a timeline for when certain things would be done. The city has resolved the key issues.

Councillor Kevin Camero-Sulak asked O’Toole about her experience with non-discrimination ordinances and civil rights concerns. O’Toole said she’d rely on the direction of the city attorney on civil rights matters.

Dell’Orco asked O’Toole what she thought the city’s biggest issues were and asked how she’d tackle them. O’Toole said that from an outsider’s perspective, the two biggest issues appear to be the wastewater treatment plant and economic diversification. She suggested capital planning was key to solving the wastewater treatment plant issues. She said managing smart economic growth was key to the second issue.

Councillor Mitchell asked O’Toole about her vision for the city for the next 5-10 years.

“I think the City of Saline is extremely well-positioned to be considered a premier community of choice,” O’Toole said. “How do we continue to build on the successes of what is accomplished here, remembering our core values, but also innovating to maintain that momentum and that progress.”

O’Toole was given the chance to freely address council. She spoke about author Jim Collins and the “hedgehog concept,” which is the idea that good-to-great companies are good at “one big thing.”

“One of my questions to you is, ‘Do you feel like you have your hedgehog concept,’” O’Toole asked.

There were no answers from the council, though Mayor Marl said he was ordering the book from Amazon.

O’Toole said it’s an important concept in the tech industry, but that the municipal sector hasn’t caught up.

“It’s something I’m passionate about, which is bringing that technological sector knowledge into government,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole then asked the council members how they define success for the city manager’s position.

“Boy, that’s a million-dollar question, isn’t it?” Marl said, before taking a stab at it. “I think someone’s success in this role is predicated on being the right fight, understanding the culture, having the ability to relate to the employees and the key community stakeholders and buying into the vision and goals of the organization.”

Marl also said he liked her answer about being innovative and progressive.

Marl said robust and proactive communication was an important feature.

Girbach said he thought success required team-building.

Mitchell said one thing she wants to see from the city manager is “simple follow-up.”

Dell’Orco said he wants to see a city manager who brings out the best in the city’s staff. Dell’Orco said success planning will also be an important task for the next city manager. Councillor Janet Dillon threw her support behind team building. Councillor Jack Ceo said he wanted to see sincere and effective communication. Ceo cited attention to detail as another important facet of the job. Councillor Camero-Sulak cited transparency as something he wanted to see out of the city manager’s office.

O’Toole said she found the comments encouraging.

Councillor Dean Girbach asked about Project Tim, a $5 billion, 24-million-square-foot project some say could bring 800 jobs to the Durand area.

O’Toole said she would provide and overview of the project to “the extent permissible.” She said the City of Durand has worked with a real estate developer to assemble about 2,000 acres of greenfield for a large-scale industrial development she said was the largest “mega-site” in the state of Michigan. She said the city was working with the state to make it a development-ready site. “Project Tim” represents about 800 acres of that site, involving 800-1,200 new jobs.

Assistant city manager Mike Greene has been in the interim manager since Todd Campbell resigned in June. Greene has been managing the city with a transition team made up of Marl, Girbach, Dillon and several department heads.

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