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Council talks City goals with new city manager

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Members of the New Buffalo City Council had the chance to lay out important City goals for incoming City Manager David Richards at a Special Council meeting Wednesday, Jan. 11.
Richards has served as City Manager for Unalakleet and Fort Yukon, Alaska. Councilmembers approved a “city manager employment agreement” with him at a meeting last month and he was hired on a temporary, 12-week basis. His start date is expected to be Monday, Jan. 23.

“I’m looking forward to working with all of you and with residents to accomplish whatever project goals we can decide on,” he said to Councilmembers at the start of the Special Meeting.

Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV explained that the point of the meeting was to “brainstorm” with Richards about what they’d like to see him accomplish over the next few months. In 12 weeks, he said, they would review what Richards has accomplished so far and plan for the future.

Both Councilmember Mark Robertson and Mark Kroll listed the City’s upcoming downtown development as being a major City goal. Robertson added that, in addition to redoing North Whittaker Street, the City was gearing up for Phase One of the North Whittaker Street Redevelopment Project, which involved reconstructing Mechanic and Barton streets. Outgoing City Manager Rob Anderson added that Phase One is currently out for bidding, with bids being due by the end of the month.

In addition to North Whittaker Street, Robertson said that working on the City’s zoning ordinance was also a priority. Currently, the City is working on creating a new Master Plan and ensuring that the language of the City’s zoning ordinance lines up with the Plan. O’Donnell added that once they have the Master Plan in place, they can “really start working” on the zoning ordinance.

Anderson explained that they have a contract with General Code, who did a legal review of the ordinance and sent them a package pointing out what should be reviewed with regards to the ordinance. Regarding the Master Plan, Anderson said that revising it has been a “community outreach” effort, as workshops have been held and various City boards have reviewed the current one.

Planning Commission Chair Pat Fisher said currently, the Commission is reviewing the Plan, marking where they believe that changes should be needed. Once they’re finished, Fisher said they will send it to Houseal Lavigne Associates, the consulting firm that was hired to help with the Plan.

Anderson emphasized that the Plan would not just be an “amendment” of the existing one but one that would focus on “tangible action items for the next five to 10 years.”

Having Richards conduct a mid-year budget review with the City’s department heads was also suggested, as Anderson said that this would help him prepare for the budget process. Richards suggested that he could either work with the City treasurer and the department heads to prepare a “draft budget” to be presented to the Council or with a committee made up of individual Councilmembers. The committee would “refine” the budget before formally presenting it to the rest of the Council.

To ensure that he was completing all of the Councilmembers’ desired goals, Richards proposed that they each send him a list of goals or projects that they’d like to see him accomplish within the first 90 days. A review period before the end of the 90 days would take place, during which they would see what he has accomplished thus far. This would provide Richards with a way to “easily demonstrate” what he has accomplished within that time frame. Once Richards received the lists, he could then prepare a “work plan” and email it to Councilmembers. Richards acknowledged that it will be a draft plan, as it may need to be amended. Councilmembers agreed to give Richards a list of items as soon as possible.

Another way to keep Councilmembers informed on what Richards has accomplished is through a biweekly activity report, during which Richards would prepare a written report displaying how he is interacting with other boards and department heads. Most importantly, O’Donnell said, was that Richards demonstrated the “ability to follow through” with his goals, as well as communicated with all the department heads and City staff and developing a “working relationship” with them.

“It’s mostly keeping the communication going and making sure that with what’s going on, there’s an end in sight to everything – it’s not just talking, it’s follow through,” O’Donnell said.