New City Manager David Richards was welcomed to City Hall Monday, Jan. 23, by the City staff and Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV.
After a busy week of introductions, meetings and getting acclimated to the town, Richards attended his first City Council meeting Thursday, Feb. 2, where Phase One of the North Whittaker Street Redevelopment project received the go-ahead approval by the City Council.
Following the Council meeting, Richards met with New Buffalo Times publisher Dee Dee Duhn and correspondent Linda Henderson to recap his first week and a half at New Buffalo City Hall.
He said he applied to the City Manager’s job and chose to come out of retirement because he felt he had a set of skills that could benefit the City. He said that New Buffalo was not unique in some of the issues that they faced. He said that in over 30 years of City management in many different and diverse communities, he has experienced many situations and has encountered many unique personalities.
“It’s best to hunker down and deal with each issues, resolve it and move on,” Richards said in dealing with any issues that may arise.
He said that it was important that issues do not distract him from meeting and managing the City’s goals.
“There are only so many hours in the day and so many man hours allotted to accomplish the goals. My job is about handling multiple priorities while remaining focused on the end goals,” he said.
Regarding the concerns bought to him by citizen in the past week and those which will come up in the future, Richards said he feels
it is important to listen, get both sides of an issue, view it objectively and openly and, in the end, hopefully, satisfy the issue in a legitimate and timely manner.
“My goal is to bring an issue to closure, to my satisfaction, in a transparent manner to all,” Richards said.
When asked about the ongoing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests being submitted to City staff, regarding the release of a taped recording made in August 2016 involving the Street Department Supervisor and a City employee, Richards stated that he will follow the advice of the City legal counsel and will not authorize the release of the DVD until a court determines the outcome and orders him to do so. He said he is following the direction of the MML (Michigan Municipal League) Risk Management Authority, who is defending the City of New Buffalo at no cost in this ongoing matter. He added if the City does not follow the MML’s advice, the MML will pull off the case and not pay for the legal counsel or the insurance coverage.
“Not complying with their direction (the MML) exposes the City to a maximum risk,” he added.
Richards has been retained for the next 90 days to head the City, and he stated that he hopes to be able to make a positive impact in those first days.
“I don’t want to do any harm to anything within the grand objective. I want to move along those issues that are timely and not complicate anything. I want to move the plan along and do it right,” he said.
“The Whittaker Street Redevelopment Plan is the main priority and it needs to be dealt with, with minimal distractions,” he added.
He also stated that O’Donnell has a desire to see that the City streets are repaired. While the Phase One Whittaker Street plan does address North Barton and East and West Mechanic and Merchant streets, more streets are identified in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for resurfacing and repair in the near future.
The final question of Richards, asked by Duhn, was, “Are you a dog person or a cat person?” Richard assured the Times that he was all about dogs. He said at one time, he had five dogs to keep him busy and active; his last, four-legged pal departed a year and half ago and he hasn’t replaced him – yet.
Richards comes to New Buffalo from his hometown of Adrian, Michigan. He is a graduate of Siena Heights University with a Bachelor of Art in Human Services/Public Administration, and he has completed graduate level courses in Personnel Administration at Western Michigan University. He has also completed numerous training courses offered by various professional organizations. He is also a member of the Michigan Municipal League (MML).
Richards brings to the City 30 years of experience as a City Manager and as a local government consultant. He most recently served as City Manager of Unalakleet, Alaska. He has served as the City Manager/Public Safety Director of Fort Yukon, Alaska; Interim City Administrator of City of Angels, California and City Administrator/CFO of Hoonah, Alaska. He also has an additional 15 years of local government management in several Michigan municipalities including Three Rivers, Hancock, Auburn and Marine City, Michigan.