RC approves sharing city manager position

ROGERS CITY – In a narrow vote, City of Rogers City Council approved sharing Onaway’s city manager Tuesday.

City council approved a contract between Rogers City and Onaway City Manager Joe Hefele, with Mayor Tom Sobeck and council members A.J. Przybyla and Scott McLennan voting yes. Mayor Pro Tem Gary Nowak and council member Kenneth Bielas voted no. Nowak believes the city manager position should be a full-time one and Bielas because he disagreed on the salary and benefits. Sobeck said he’s looking forward to working with Hefele and Onaway.

“It’s exciting to start this new era in Presque Isle County, frankly, between Onaway and Rogers City,” he said. “It’s a collaborative effort; we’ll see how it works. I’m excited to see how it unfolds, and I’m looking forward to working with Joe to move forward, as well as the city of Onaway, to see what kind of positive things we can accomplish.”

Council members took the vote after a special meeting where they discussed concerns about the contract. They also heard two public comments, one from Rachel Goodstein and another from local restaurant owner Dave Glenn. Goodstein repeated her opposition to a part-time city manager, saying that on top of their many duties spelled out by the city charter, they also serve as the face of the city.

Glenn said he agreed with Goodstein, and pointed out that several business owners have made investments in recent years.The city should be coming up with a strategy on how to support business owners and bring new people to town, he said, and look at the shared arrangement as a temporary one.

Both Glenn and Goodstein said they had nothing against Hefele as a candidate, and Glenn said he’s known Hefele for many years. Both said they believed the city should’ve interviewed more than one candidate for the job.

Sobeck said the city didn’t interview other people, but added the city had an opportunity that doesn’t often arise.

“I think it’s time to look at things from other perspectives, and this is one way to do that,” he said.

McLennan said that while the main focus has been on the savings to the city, he views the move as a synergistic effort.

“If it is something that is not going to work out, we’re going to know that, and we’re going to know that within six months to a year, and we are planning to monitor closely and evaluate,” he said. “I think that this is a very forward-thinking move and I think that this is a very positive move for the citizens of Onaway and Rogers City.”

Onaway city commissioners voted on March 19 to approve the deal. It’s one that could save both cities considerably: at least $33,497 for Rogers City and at least $31,672 for Onaway, according to Hefele’s calculations.

On Tuesday, Hefele suggested working on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in Rogers City and Tuesdays and Thursdays in Onaway, with the exact details to be settled later. His contract with Rogers City states the agreement takes effect on April 1. Rogers City will pay him $45,000 for the year, and after six months the city will evaluate the arrangement to see if it’s working.

During the workshop, Nowak questioned some of the language in the contract. He wondered if Hefele would be getting paid by both cities for holidays, and asked about a section on firing the city manager for cause. The contract states the city manager works at the pleasure of city council, as has been the case, and a majority vote is required to fire him or her without cause. However, firing the city manager for cause requires an affirmative vote from four city council members, or a unanimous decision if the vote takes place within 90 days of a city council election.

Nowak said he didn’t think this stipulation to be fair to city council, but Sobeck said he believed it protected the city from liability. City Attorney Mike Vogler said that a city manager terminated for cause wouldn’t get the benefits otherwise allowed for severance.

Ultimately, Hefele said he’s glad to be working for his hometown.

“I’m also very excited that both Rogers City and Onaway are willing to explore what I think could be a big benefit to both communities,” he said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.