Consultant: Finding Caro city manager a ‘very difficult process’

Frank Walsh, consultant, begins the process of working with Caro City Council to find a new manager. He said it will be a tough process due to several circumstances. (Photo by Andrew Dietderich)
Frank Walsh, consultant, begins the process of working with Caro City Council to find a new manager. He said it will be a tough process due to several circumstances. (Photo by Andrew Dietderich)

Finding a new city manager is going to be a big challenge for the city of Caro, said a consultant hired by officials to lead the search.
Frank Walsh, hired by the city for $6,000, said challenges include competing with eight other Michigan municipalities in the same position, and a bad time of year to do a search, among other reasons.
Walsh spoke to council members at a special meeting held Monday to establish goals and set a timeline for filling the Caro city manager’s position that was left open when Jared Olson resigned unexpectedly on Oct. 3.
“I will tell you it’s going to be a very difficult process,” Walsh said.
“This is a search that we cannot just put an ad out and sit around and wait to see who applies,” Walsh said. “We have to go out and start shaking the bushes on this.”
An ad for the position has been posted to the Michigan Municipal League website. As of press time it can be found at http://bit.ly/2f5dwmK The ad states Caro “is currently seeking candidates to serve as their next City Manager. Caro is located in the thumb area of the Mitten State and is the county seat of Tuscola County. Caro is the primary retail and commercial center in the county. Nestled on the banks of the Cass River, with Lake Huron surrounding the peninsula that Caro is located on, Caro is a ‘Michigan Hot Spot’ for fishing throughout the four seasons.”
The ad also says the ideal candidate “should have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration or related field and 3-5 years in local government or related experience. The Caro City Council is seeking candidates with an outstanding track record, strong financial skills, understanding of economic development and community relations, someone who fosters collaboration with surrounding communities and has the vision, energy and passion to serve the city in an exemplary manner.”
Walsh said his experience includes 17 years as city manager in St. Joseph and his current position as township manager in Meridian Township, near East Lansing. Walsh told council members Monday that he has done “between 18 and 25” similar searches in his career, but now only conducts about one annually.
He helped the city of Caro in its last search for a city manager in 2012, when Jared Olson was hired.
Olson resigned effectively immediately earlier this month, citing family commitments as the primary reason.
Walsh said Caro’s biggest challenge is the fact at least eight other municipalities are conducting similar searches. They include Ypsilanti, Big Rapids, Allegan, Clarkston, and New Buffalo.
Walsh said last time he helped Caro, there were only three openings in the state.
Having more openings means Caro is competing with other communities for candidates, essentially making it a “buyer’s market.”
Another challenge, Walsh said, is location.
“It is a little more of a challenge to recruit to this area than it is to other parts of Michigan,” he said. “I just have to tell you it is.
“We got very fortunate last time.”
The timing of the search doesn’t help, either, Walsh said.
“The time you really want to be doing a search is June, July, August,” he said. “It’s one of the more difficult times to do recruitment.”
Mayor Dick Pouliot said he understood the dilemma.
“In that regard, what we could do, depending on where the candidate lives and what kind of situation he’s in, he can be hired and given a certain period of time to relocate,” said Pouliot, who later clarified for The Advertiser that the position is open to men and women candidates.
Walsh also urge the Caro City Council to serve as a “stable” unit and work together.
“As much as you can do to hang in there, and work together, and work through any issues that might be out there – and I’m an outsider so I don’t know – but anything you can do to keep the wheels on the bus and keep moving forward,” Walsh said. “If candidates start seeing turmoil, or a board that doesn’t work together? That is the number one turn-off to attract candidates. That’s the first question I get.”
To make the position more attractive, the board approved an increase in wages for the city manager to between $80,000 and $90,000. Walsh said that would put Caro in the general ballpark of others conducting searches, such as Allegan (offering $85,000 to $95,000) and New Buffalo (offering $75,000 to $85,000).
At that rate, Walsh estimates the city will be able to target candidates with the requisite three to five years of experience, or two internships.
Walsh also asked the board for its top two or three goals to relay to potential applicants, a critical question that is typical of city manager candidates.
“If you have two, maybe not even three, but what are the top goals that this new manager should be thinking about to come in here and accomplish,” Walsh said. “That’s really helpful…they all ask the question.”
Pouliot asked Walsh if council members could forward their ideas to Karen Snider, clerk/interim manager, Caro, and that if she could then forward to him.
That is to be done within the next two weeks.
The Advertiser later asked Pouliot why goals weren’t immediately discussed.
“There are seven council members,” Pouliot said. “The goals and perspectives of each person should be respected
“I don’t necessarily think everyone came prepared,” Pouliot said. “I know I hadn’t come prepared to give him goal A, B, and C.
“I like to reflect on those sorts of things.”
When asked directly by The Advertiser to provide an example or two of what his goals might focus on, Pouliot could not provide an answer.
“My mind’s kind of blank right now,” he said. “Honestly, I’m kind of blank on that.
“I really want to go through and look at our audit, look at our audit report, the major project’s we got going on, the things in the community,” Pouliot said. “I make a list and then I look at it.”
In addition to the wage increase, Walsh identified two other potential positives.
Walsh said because he is acting as an independent consultant, Caro will benefit because he isn’t working for a company that is conducting four or five concurrent searches.
“Caro is it so you’ll have my full attention going forward,” Walsh said.
Further, Walsh said he already is working with other recruiters to learn about those who are applying in other parts of the state, which could prove beneficial for the search committee.
The deadline for applicants is Nov. 18.
Each council member will individually review the applications.
Those who are top choices are set to be interviewed Saturday, Dec. 3, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The interviews are open to the public.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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