Grand Rapids starting city manager search over

Grand Rapids city commissioners sit in a meeting on Feb. 6, 2018 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids is going back to square one in its search for a new city manager.

At a meeting Tuesday evening, city commissioners voted unanimously not to hire any of the three finalists for the job and start its search over.

“(The three finalists) each bring a number of strengths and there are things that I really like about each candidate. I’ve also listened really diligently to the community and I sense a divide,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said during discussion before the vote.

When asked if public outcry within in the last year regarding interactions between black children and police was leading to pressure to hire a person of color, Bliss said “that wasn’t the core issue.”

“I think we want the best qualified candidate that can address the complex issue, complex issues, I should say, in our community,” she told 24 Hour News 8 after the meeting.

The finalists were Pontiac Deputy Mayor Jane Bais-Disessa, Port Huron City Manager James Freed and Arlington County, Virginia, Deputy Manager Carol Mitten. They faced community members in a public forum Monday and sat before the commission earlier Tuesday for final interviews.

“I want to apologize to the three candidates,” 3rd Ward Commissioner David Allen said later during the meeting. “This is a process that we as a commission designed and approved, so we have to own that. So we either own that we got great candidates or own that it didn’t work out.”

During the meeting, 3rd Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear said she felt the process was rushed.

“If we were to say we’re ready, we have a contract with an existing firm that potentially needs to be either renegotiated or extended or cancelled or whatever and I think all of those are the factors that we have to take into consideration,” Lenear noted.

The city spent $25,000 to bring on recruitment firm GovHR to find the right person to replace longtime City Manager Greg Sundstrom, who retired Feb. 2. The 61 applications that came in were soon narrowed to five finalists and then three.

When asked how the city justifies spending tens of thousands of dollars on the hiring firm and then going back to the drawing board, Bliss told 24 Hour News 8, “It’s not actually all that unusual.”

“I actually talked about that tonight, that our library system, they just went through a process and they weren’t able to coalesce around one candidate and they went back out,” she continued.

The motion from 1st Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor to start over also included evaluating the search process and community engagement. The job will be reposted within 30 days.

–24 Hour News 8’s Sarah Hurwitz contributed to this report.