The sudden and unexpected (at least to me) resignation of Wayland City Manager Tim McLean Monday night has left me with some unpleasant questions about the nature of public service in this town.
McLean’s successor will be the fifth city manager here in the last six years. Chris Yonker left without explanation in late 2011, successor Terry Hofmeyer served for less than six months as interim manager, Mike Selden was here for about two and a half years and McLean lasted for less than two years.
Contrast that with city managers of days gone by, people such as Carl Fockler, who served for 13 years from 1974 to 1987, and successor Harmon “Pete” Stull, who put in a decent tenure.
I’ve been told that the average stay of a city manager is about five years, but Wayland has been averaging far below that over the past six years. And contrast that with neighbor Hastings, where Jeff Mansfield has been city manager for 17 years, and Grand Rapids, where Greg Sundstrom is stepping down after more than eight years.
Other recent job merry-go-rounds in Wayland public service have included Henika District Library Director, where we hope we can keep Molly Walker for more than her two-year stint thus far after only about six months from Elysha Cloyd. This, after the first four Henika Library directors put in a combined 98 years of service.
Then there is the matter of director of the Main Street program. Alicia Zylstra resigned almost three years ago to spend more time with her family and successor Sara Najar lasted only about six months afterward. Ingrid Miller has been at the helm for nearly two years, and we hope longer.
The obvious question an outside observer could make is, why can’t Wayland keep people around longer?
One reason very simply has a lot to do with personal circumstances. Cloyd left so soon because she wanted to join her fiancé in Kansas, a claim similar to that of McLean, who is moving closer to his soon-to-be wife.
We also have to be keenly aware that when we bring in professionals from the outside, they may be just using this city as a stepping stone on their resume. This would include Selden, who went on to greener pastures with the Michigan Townships Association.
McLean’s departure on the surface appears to be a reasonable move for him, but I’m suspicious that there’s more to the story, just like when Chamber of Commerce Director Denise Behm left five years ago to take a public relations post at the Gun Lake Casino and then came back in just one week. Her explanation was that she missed everybody here, even though she was only three miles away.
What doesn’t quite add up this time is that McLean’s last day here, Aug. 25, is exactly two weeks before he is to be wed, on Sept. 8. Announcing his resignation Monday night, he didn’t give two weeks notice. Nor did the city insist on it. Granted, the council is holding him to promise helping as a consultant for the next 90 days, but his departure seems hastier than customary.
I’ve heard rumors that some folks on the council are guilty of that persistent nasty practice of micromanaging, something that I’ve accused of Dorr Township Board members John Tuinstra, Patty Senneker, Terri Rios and Clerk Debbie Sewers.
The dictionary I have on my computer defines micromanaging as attempting to “control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity).”
I have no evidence this is true, but I have suspicions.
Local officials need to ask themselves what they can do to keep good people in professional positions that not everyone can do. The city’s track record of late hasn’t been very good.