Cass City manager out; quits hours before volatile meeting

Peter Cristiano
Peter Cristiano

Former Cass City Village Manager Peter Cristiano resigned Monday – 2.5 hours before at least 100 people jammed into the village’s municipal building to express frustrations over how the municipality has been operating.

Cristiano, 83, turned in his letter of resignation on Friday, Jan. 27, and noted it would be effective at 4:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 30.

As The Advertiser was the first to report in November, Cristiano had intended to leave his job effective Feb. 1. However, he said he was asked by more than one village council member to stay in his role as village manager until the opening of a grocery store planned for downtown Cass City.

Just two weeks ago, Cristiano told The Advertiser that was his plan – and that he expected the process would be completed later this year. The reason, he said, was that the project involves coordinating with as many as 10 organizations to make it happen.

A letter from Cristiano was read into the record Monday.

“It is with great sadness that I give my notice to retire as village manager of Cass City,” Village President Carl Palmateer read from Cristiano’s letter. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of this great community. It has been wonderful working with everyone. All of the employees and the village council have been exceptional people.

“My retirement will begin Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, at 4:30 p.m.,” Palmateer read. “My God bless all of you, and may Cass City have a great future.”

When Palmateer finished reading the letter, many who had crammed into council chambers and spilled out into the lobby of the municipal building applauded.

As required, a motion was made to accept the resignation, and a vote was taken.

It was approved 7-0.

“I respect Peter, I think he’s done a wonderful job for Cass City,” said Council member Marilyn Biefer before voting to accept the resignation “with regret.”

Jenny Zawilinski, council member, made a similar comment before casting her vote to accept the resignation.

“I say ‘yes’ but am also regretful in the way he had to leave, and the way things went,” she said.

Cass City village council later voted 5-2 to appoint Cass City Police Chief Craig Haynes as interim village manager. The move ruffled the feathers of many, especially those who had put forth the idea of bringing back Lou LaPonsie to serve in the role (LaPonsie held the position for years before leaving Cass City for similar positions in Sandusky and Marlette.)

Cristiano has been a target of Tom Herron, a Cass City council member elected in November.

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Cass City Village Council Member Tom Herron, shown here speaking Monday, has been particularly critical of Cristiano since taking office in November. Herron doesn’t have to worry about Cristiano anymore – the former village manager retired effective Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (Photo by Andrew Dietderich)

Almost from the day he was sworn in, Herron has taken Cristiano – and his fellow council members – to task over how Cass City business has been conducted.

His biggest point of contention was a $153,000 check Cristiano wrote to the milk production plant operated in the area by the Dairy Farmers of America. Cristiano wrote the check due to a clerical error, and told The Advertiser is was nothing more than a billing mistake, and as such, he had full authority to write the check without village council approval.

But myriad issues also plague Cass City, Herron said, with is why he began his campaign to initiate change at the highest levels of leadership – starting with Cristiano.

Cristiano relocated to the Thumb region post-retirement from the private sector in metro Detroit.

His professional background includes serving as vice president of corporate development for the former Capital Cities Communications, which would eventually go on to become Disney-ABC Television Group through a series of mergers and acquisitions that began in 1985.

He also started several tech companies and was one of the founders of the Oakland County Economic Development Corp. (now rebranded as AdvantageOakland) and Oakland County Business Finance Corp.

Before going into the private sector, Cristiano worked for the city of Southfield for more than 20 years starting in 1960 and in roles ranging from parks and recreation director and deputy city manager to eventually serving on the Southfield City Council for 15 years.

In the early 2000s, he moved to Caseville after retiring.

However, in 2005, Cass City was searching for a village manager and having difficulty finding suitable candidates, he said.

Cristiano said he stepped up, offering to take on the position and help the village “for three months, six months, whatever it took.”

Ultimately, it took until Jan. 30, 2017.

Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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