Brian J. Chapman leaves as Vassar’s city manager after a four-year tenure that saw the city embrace entrepreneurs, new cultural events and a medical-marijuana store.
“It’s just the next step professionally, and it satisfied a lot of personal wants in our lives,” said Chapman, referring to the city of Sault Ste. Marie’s decision to extend him a conditional offer as its next city manager.
“We’d be closer to family, and it hits on a lot of my personal outdoor activities, like hunting and fishing. It checked a lot of boxes for us.”
The city commission in Sault Ste. Marie, population 13,552, approved a conditional offer on Aug. 8 to Chapman. Leaders in the Upper Peninsula city, and Chapman, are negotiating terms of a contract.
Chapman, now 34, began working in October of 2015 as city manager in Vassar, population 2,562. He receives an annual salary of $67,320. Chapman’s parents live in the Alpena area, while the parents of his wife, Amber, reside in Menominee County in the Upper Peninsula. The Chapmans have an 11-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.
Before taking the job in Vassar, Chapman had worked in various roles for the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. and for the city of Negaunee in the Upper Peninsula. Chapman, a 2003 graduate of Linden High School in Genesee County, said the primary reason he accepted the Vassar job was because he wanted to become a city manager.
“But it was closer to my parents (then in the Flint area) and it was a switch from previous years where we were always close to my wife’s parents, and far away from my parents,” he said. “We were trying to switch that, and a little bit of the motive in taking the job in Sault Ste. Marie is that it puts us closer to her parents while preserving the distance between me and my parents.”
Chapman said his parents moved to the Alpena area a year or two ago.
“I think (Sault Ste. Marie) is actually 10 minutes closer to where they are right now,” Chapman said. “When I’m in the Sault, I’ll be 10 minutes closer to my parents than what I am in Vassar right now.”
According to sooeveningnews.com, a group of Sault Ste. Marie city commissioners will visit Vassar in the coming weeks. The website reports any contract inked between Chapman and the city is pending a background check to verify information including educational degrees and employment history.
Chapman expressed satisfaction will the creation of a Summer Concert Series along South Main Street in downtown Vassar under his watch. The next concert, featuring The Rock Show, is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Using the crowdfunding platform Patronicity, the city raised $7,500 to match a Michigan Economic Development Corp. Public Spaces Community Places grant, which finances music-themed murals to be painted on exterior walls of private buildings that serve as a backdrop for the Vassar concert series.
In addition, workers will string lights across South Main Street between roofs of buildings on both sides of the street, lighting the concert venue.
Chapman also spearheaded a weekly “Slow Roll” community bicycle ride, with bicyclists meeting at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday, through September, at T. North Pavilion.
“Those programs are really my point of pride as I leave Vassar,” Chapman said. “Those are the things that I’m really going to look back on – the Summer Concert Series for sure. It was a small idea that has grown into being a very well-attended and a very popular event, and it’s building the community back up.
“There have been a few other projects that have spurred off of it, like the lighting-the-stage campaign (at the concert series venue), which we just successfully funded and we’re implementing now. Those are great things. That’s rebuilding the sense of community again.
“The ‘Slow Roll’ wasn’t wildly popular, but there was still a good following of people that really enjoyed it, and it brought a little bit of life back to the city. People made some new friendships and they were all real positive.”
Vassar Mayor Mike Damm said city leaders are confident they’ll find someone “who will carry on with the direction and the many great projects developed during Brian’s four years here.”
“While I am sad to see Brian leave Vassar, I am excited for him and this great opportunity at Sault Ste. Marie,” Damm said. “Brian brought a high level of integrity and thinking outside the box as he helped move Vassar in a positive direction.”
Damm said Vassar, due to its size and “a budget that is tighter than some places,” tends to attract applicants seeking their first job as a city manager.
“We realize that we can’t compete with the larger and more affluent cities but we have lots to offer in opportunity and quality of life and it’s a great community and staff,” Damm said.
Chapman praised the various city council members he has worked with in Vassar. Currently the council consists of Damm, Chuck Fabbro, Megan Hathaway, Melissa Armstrong and Pat Mecham.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of great council members, from day one to the current group that we have right now,” Chapman said. “They’ve all been fantastic. That is probably one of the more sad parts about leaving; I’m stepping away from a fantastic council. I’m a little bummed about that.”
Several restaurants opened in a one-block stretch of M-15 in downtown Vassar during Chapman’s tenure. In addition, following legislators’ approval of a 2016 state medical-marijuana law, The Station, a medical-marijuana provisioning center, opened at 302 E. Huron Ave.
Chapman called The Station a “good neighbor” to the community.
“Cannabis in general,” Chapman said, “is going to be an industry that is going to be big enough to fill in the gaps of what the city has lost with previous manufacturers, and help the community carry itself forward into the future economies of the new world coming in.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.