GR city manager search down to 3 finalists

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids city commissioners have narrowed the field of candidates to be the next city manager to three — but there aren’t any guarantees that one of those finalists will actually get the job.

The finalists announced Monday are Pontiac Deputy Mayor Jane Bais-Disessa, Port Huron City Manager James Freed and Arlington County, Virginia, Deputy Manager Carol Mitten.

>>Resumes (PDFs): Bais-Disessa | Freed | Mitten

Community members will get to put their questions to the candidates at a forum next week.

“We as a body have an important decision to make, and we need to hear from the community as we make this decision,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said Tuesday.

The mayor says she wants to hear the candidates take on the core issues, like police-community relations, affordable housing and how the new city manager would bring the city together during difficult times.

The city has spent $25,000 on a recruitment firm to help find the right fit for the job. But the mayor isn’t ruling out scrapping the list and starting over again if none of the candidates say what the commission and the public want to hear.

“That’s a possibility,” she said. “Other cities have gone through that. We’ve gone through that with other positions where we’ve worked really hard and we really didn’t feel like it was a good fit.”

The city manager runs day-to-day operations and handles the city’s yearly budget of more than $500 million. But no one familiar with that budget — that is, no one from inside City Hall — is a finalist. Bliss said that’s because there were no inside applicants.

“Actually, the individuals I thought were interested, they came and talked to me and let me know that they would not be applying,” she said.

She blamed an ongoing drain of experience at City Hall. Hundreds more are expected to retire from city posts in the next few years, including many who fill sixth-floor leadership offices.

The mayor says another hiccup may be that Grand Rapids has a city commission and a city manager. It’s an unusual setup and may limit the number of candidates applying to be city manager.

The public forum to meet the city manager finalists is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Wealthy Theatre. Commissioners will conduct final interviews from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at City Hall; those interviews will be open to the public.