Search process set for new GR city manager

Greg Sundstrom announced retirement Tuesday after eight years as city manager

Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom
Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom at a city commission meeting on Aug. 15, 2017 after announcing his retirement.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Greg Sundstrom’s official retirement announcement Tuesday morning was met with praise from Grand Rapids city commissioners who credit the eight-year city manager for getting the city through a financial crisis that bankrupted other communities.

“Very few people could say that they steered a city of our size and our magnitude through the worst time since the Great Depression,” 3rd Ward Commissioner David Allen said.

His ward colleague echoed those sentiments.

“We are where we are today because of some of those tough decisions that you made,” Commissioner Senita Lenear said.

It was 2009 when Sundstrom was appointed city manager. The Great Recession was taking hold. Five hundred jobs had to be cut from the city payroll. Sundstrom and his staff went beyond the cuts common to municipal government at the time.

Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom
Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom. (Aug. 14, 2017)

“When you want to make change, it’s like trying to turn the Titanic — but you have turned the Titanic,” 2nd Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly said.

Sundstrom steered a plan that not only put city government on a crash diet, but also put programs in place allowing the city to continue offering vital services in a sustainable way.

“Sometimes I think you have to be crazy to work in this profession. Actually, I know you have to be crazy. You have to be crazy in love to serve your fellow citizens and make this a better community,” Sundstrom told commissioners.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss says the search for a new city manager will begin in weeks. While she didn’t rule out internal candidates, Bliss said the search will be nationwide.

Input from the community will be vital to the process.

“This individual will work closely with the city commission, but also work really closely with all of our community partners, so finding the best person to fill those shoes is really critical,” Bliss said.

The candidate will need the usual credentials, including skills to manage an operation with a $500 million budget, along with integrity, honesty and a belief in service to the community.

The new manager will also need to tow the line when it comes to the commissioner wish list on creating affordable housing, improving police-community relations and encouraging equity for citizens.

“Someone who values public-private partnerships, but also values community engagement, community input as we make difficult decisions,” Bliss said.

Consultant fees are expected to cost about $20,000. Bliss said she would like to have a new city manager in place by February.