By Scott Sullivan
Saugatuck Township took steps Tuesday to shorten its growing list of job openings by interviewing Natalie Kay Dean for a possible combined post as manager and zoning administrator.
At a 1:30 p.m. special meeting posted outside the hall Monday Dean, a municipal planner for the Kalamazoo-based Wightman consulting firm, told township board members her 13 years experience as a City of Marshall planner, zoning administrator and, eventually, assistant city manager spurred her interest in the combined ZA/manager’s job here.
She cited her information technology studies at Spring Arbor University and professional IT experience as equipping her to handle many of those demands in the township office.
“My husband and I love sailing and have visited Saugatuck many times,” Dean said. “I like handling multiple duties as are often called on in smaller offices.
“When I saw your listing I thought it was just the job I was looking for,” she said.
The board voted to explore discussing contract possibilities with the applicant.
The manager’s post has been open since Aaron Sheridan — who had worked for 15 years in the township hall, the last five as full-time manager — resigned at the board’s request Nov. 13 following the Nov. 6 recall election of four board members.
The part-time planner/zoning administrator’s job fell open after Steve Kushion resigned that position on Halloween to take a similar one nearer to his home.
The ZA/planner’s job was first posted Nov. 13 and seeks a qualified part-time candidate with a staring pay from $25,000 to $45,000 a year, depending on experience, without benefits.
Subsequent to Sheridan’s resignation as manager, the township posted an open combined listing Dec. 14 on the Michigan Municipal League website and a subsequent ad with the Michigan Townships Association.
The full-time joint position calls for a person who, working under the township board, “is responsible for the selection, employment and discharge of all other township employees with board approval.
He or she also would manage and oversee township business operations and activities, facilitate compliance with office policies and statutory obligations.
The ZA “provides planning and zoning functions pursuant to applicable federal and state laws and township ordinances, including Chapter 40 Zoning. Pay is listed at between $60,000 and $80,000 a year, depending on qualifications,” the listing says.
Audience member and former trustee Roy McIlwaine told the board Tuesday he appreciated members’ sense of urgency with regard to finding a new manager, but said for transparency’s sake more advance meeting notice and scheduling an evening session would make the process open to more residents.
Planning commission member Maggie Conklin echoed those concerns and asked that other vacancies, notably for clerk, also be filled through an open and thoughtful process.
At its regular monthly meeting Jan. 2, the board discussed contracting with Frank Walsh, who has management consulting experience with neighbor cities of Douglas and Saugatuck, to help the township search for a manager who might double as ZA also.
“Frank said we’ve been getting a very good response so far,” supervisor Chris Roerg said.
For interim zoning and planning help, the board has approached Lynee Wells, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids-based Williams & Works engineering and planning firm.
Wells, who has also worked on a contract basis with the two neighbor cities, has said she would work month-to-month, with no term assigned, for $2,400 based on one day a week in the office, $4,400 for two days.
“Let’s see what our needs will be,” treasurer Jon Helmrich said.
Also discussed Jan. 2 were a newly-created opening for Kalamazoo Lake Sewer and Water Authority representative and how to replace the newly-elected clerk.
Bill Wester, one of four recall candidates voted into office Nov. 6, made clear from the start he sought only the clerk’s statutory (decision-making, voting) duties.
Upon election Wester named Lori Babinski, voted out as treasurer in the recall, deputy clerk to daily administrative duties handled by prior clerks. They carry a $44,793 annual salary and insurance benefits, as compared to $10,428 without benefits for filling the statutory role.
Wester, who owns a private golf cart business, resigned from the statutory role Dec. 13 for family medical reasons. On learning that would cost Babinski the job to which he’d appointed her, he rescinded his resignation five days later, opting instead for an unpaid leave of absence.
He has apprised the board hw is willing to resign at such time as they, by appointment, might replace him.
The recall that swept Wester, Helmrich, trustees Abby Bigford and Stacey Aldrich into office was premised on, among other issues, the former board voting to reprimand Aaron Sheridan Aug. 16, 2017, after complaints of a profane exchange between him and former supervisor Jon Phillips.
Communication issues between Sheridan and Saugatuck Township Fire District leaders, plus the neighbor city managers, were cited also in the recall issue.
Among recall candidates, only Wester —supervisor from 2006 to 2016 after serving four more years on the zoning board of appeals, brought institutional experience to the township board.
Roerig, who was appointed supervisor by the old board last spring after Phillips moved out of the township, was elected unopposed to that same post Nov. 6, also is a board veteran. Roerig served as trustee from 2000 to 2012 and before then on the parks commission.
Departures of the four recalled board members, Sheridan, Kushion and now Wester, leaves the new group with fresh views seemingly supported by their mandate and good intentions, but a learning curve with day-to-day operations.
Bigford asked fellow board members Jan. 2 to consider her for the clerk’s job. Helmrich and Aldrich, claiming filling those duties took precedence over the trustee’s post Bigford would thusly vacate, supported appointing her that night.
Roerig demurred, saying for procedural and transparency’s sake it would be better to post the clerk’s job and take open applications for it.
Helmrich and Aldrich voted to name Bigford clerk that night. The applicant herself joined Roerig voting no.
The motion failed by 2-2 count, lacking a majority.
Roerig, noting the township has only one representative on the KLSWA board —which has public budget meetings slated Jan. 14 and 28 — said Sheridan should remain in that post.
Helmrich said that would be unacceptable and asked whether someone else would step up. Resident Dana Bird, in the audience as an engineer for the township, declined Helmrich’s request, saying it would pose conflict of interest concerns. Roerig added he would not serve in that position.
“The most-qualified person we have now by far is Aaron,” said the supervisor.
“I think (reappointing Sheridan) would be a terrible decision,” said Hemrich.
The board voted 3-1 to remove Sheridan from the KLSWA board but took no action to replace him.
“So now we have an opening for that as well,” Roerig said.