26 to 5: Caro city manager interviews set for Saturday

Caro City Council members are set to interview five candidates as they continue to work toward filling the city’s vacant city manager position.

The five candidates are:

  • Jennifer James-Mesloh, MPA assistant professor and program director, Northern Michigan University, Marquette
  • Charles Sundblad, director, Caro Department of Public Works
  • Jim Coleman, director of housing, facilities, and community development, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Dowagiac
  • Charles Watson, retired firefighter at the Gerald R. Ford Airport near Grand Rapids and former council member and mayor, Cedar Springs
  • Ryan Piche, village administrator, village of Botkins, Ohio

There were 26 applicants for the position vacated by Jared Olson, who quit unexpectedly and effective immediately on Oct. 3. City council members narrowed the field to five after reviewing applications Monday.

Caro City Council hired Frank Walsh, a consultant with extensive experience in conducting city manager searches, through a $6,000 contract to find the city’s next manager.

“I’m pleased with the quality of the candidates and look forward to hearing from them on Saturday,” Walsh told The Advertiser. “The Caro City Council has chosen a great group of finalists with a plethora of experience in their chosen careers.”

The candidate from closest to home is Sundblad, who has worked for the city for 26 years, including the last 18 as head of Caro’s DPW.

Charles Sundblad, finalist, Caro City Manager
Charles Sundblad, finalist, Caro City Manager

“I’m seeking the position to take the next step in my career,” he told The Advertiser Tuesday. “I’m seeking it because I care about the community. I’m from the community and want to keep the community sailing in the right direction without skipping a beat.”

Sundblad identified his top priority as “to continue the projects (Caro) has on the books now, and to keep moving on future projects that we would like to do.”

Coleman said he views economic development as one of the top priorities for the city.

For the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Coleman said he has been in his current position for seven years. Prior to that, he worked for 13 years with the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation. He described tribal government as being “very similar to city government.”

Coleman said the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is spread across 10 counties in southwest Michigan and Indiana. In his role, Coleman said he oversees three departments: public housing, facilities, and community development. He manages a budget of between $6 million and $10 million and is constantly coordinating with other units of government and agencies.

Originally from the village of Breckenridge in Gratiot County, Coleman said, “What interests me in Caro is I want to transition from tribal government to city government.”

“I’m not Native American, though I’ve worked in native communities for the last 20 years doing very similar things to what a city manager would do.”

Coleman also said he’s interested in moving to the area as his wife is a counselor at Bridgeport High School.

Jim Coleman, finalist, Caro City Manager
Jim Coleman, finalist, Caro City Manager

The interview process will be nothing new to Watson, who recently interviewed for a shared city manager position between Lakeview and Stanton, two communities northeast of Grand Rapids. He told The Advertiser he finished second and didn’t get the job.

Watson’s experience includes 25 years as an airport firefighter at Gerald R. Ford Airport near Grand Rapids. He also has served on the Cedar Springs City Council for eight years, including three as mayor.

Since retiring in 2015, Watson has attended Grand Valley State University and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in public and nonprofit administration in December.

This past summer he interned in Ferrysburg, village of Spring Lake, and Spring Lake Township, working on various projects from reviewing building permits and plans to working in code enforcement for a day.

Watson also interned with West Michigan Archery Center (WMAC), where he helped put together a policy and procedure book, and coordinated a community service project, among other things.

He told The Advertiser he’s interested in the Caro city manager position because he has seen the impact one can have on a community.

Charlie Watson, finalist, Caro City Manager
Charlie Watson, finalist, Caro City Manager

“I figured out during my time as an elected official that I really enjoyed working with the city and working with all of the projects that would come up,” Watson said. “And quite quickly, I also figured out that the person who had the best opportunity to touch the lives of the citizens…seemed to be the city manager.”

James-Mesloh currently serves as director of the Masters of Public Administration program at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

She holds a doctorate in public affairs that she earned in 2010 from the University of Central Florida as well as an MPA in public administration from Florida Gulf Coast University and a bachelor of science degree in public relations from the University of Florida.

Other professional experience for James-Mesloh includes serving as president of a consulting firm for public and nonprofit agencies, a criminal justice instructor and internship coordinator at Florida Gulf Coast University and public information officers for the Lee County Health Dept. in Florida.

She also has authored several reports, including “Upper Peninsula Economic Development Data Collection and Marketing Project” in 2014 — a report that was provided to all 15 economic development agencies in the Upper Peninsula.

James-Mesloh voluntarily provided The Advertiser with a copy of her preliminary questionnaire that she submitted early in the application process. She was the only one.

Jennifer James-Mesloh, finalist, Caro City Manager
Jennifer James-Mesloh, finalist, Caro City Manager

“I am highly engaged in my community and am passionate about improving the communities where I live,” she wrote. “In addition, I have a strong sense of preserving community heritage and traditions. It’s important to me that a community can be the type of place I want to raise my family. A community where civic engagements, community pride and dedication are the prominent aspects people first notice when coming to town.”

“Consequently, I was impressed with the level of community spirit and civic engagement found in the city of Caro and strongly believe that when we love where we live, that enthusiasm inspires others to make a difference as well. All these aspects are evident in the city of Caro, thus making it a place I would want to live, work, and raise my family.”

Piche did not return a message left Tuesday by The Advertiser.

The interviews set for Saturday begin at 9 a.m. with the last set to take place at 2 p.m. 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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