Watervliet City Commission whole again; Mayor seeks public input on City Manager vacancy
By Annette Christie
At the January 24, 2017 Watervliet City Commission meeting, the commission was made whole again as the Mayor’s recommendation of Larry Hehl was approved by the full commission. While two years remain on the term vacated by Melanie Marvin to become a full-time city employee, Hehl will serve in the position until an election is held. At that time, Hehl would have to run for the seat, and be elected, in order to keep the seat.
Hehl, who resides at 241 S. Main in the City of Watervliet, also sits on the Planning Commission. With some changes to the number of members on the Planning Commission, Hehl would be able to remain on both. This was the only problem that Commissioner Luke Strunk had with appointing Hehl to the City Commission, that he would not be able to continue serving on the Planning Commission. As Chairman of the Planning Commission Strunk finds Hehl to be an effective and informed member of the Planning Commission and he said he would hate to lose him in that capacity.
Following some examination of the Planning Commission make-up and rules, the City Commission chose to place him on the City Commission and leave him on the Planning Commission.
Hehl became a permanent resident of Watervliet in 2013. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and history and has a long list of experience in business management including owning and operating businesses. He is retired.
Public input sought on City Manager position
Former City Commissioner Dan Hummel sort of set the tone for an upcoming special meeting of the City Commission whereby they will be all ears and willing to listen to ideas about the future of the City Manager position. Hummel asked to speak to the Commission at their Tuesday night meeting regarding the selection of a new City Manager. Hummel prefaced that if the Commission puts forth similar efforts they will get similar results. He said he would like the Commission to try something new in their effort to find a new City Manager. “Pick someone you can trust implicitly,” Hummel said. He encouraged the City Commission to become intimately involved in the process and to change whatever they must to ensure that the selection will be successful. With that he added, “Let them run our city,” Hummel said.
Brinker confirmed that the city has received approximately 14 applications/resumes for the position of City Manager. He told the City Commission that one of the things he hears the most on his Saturday morning office hours is what are they going to do about the City Manager position and people are not shy to make suggestions about what they believe city leadership should do. Brinker thought that all of that input should be shared with the whole commission, thus the special meeting.
The special meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. with the purpose being to allow residents to share with the City Commission what they would like to see in a City Manager, what they think would work for the city and what would not, etc. The meeting will not be a place where the public and the City Commission will be going over or reviewing the individual applicants. The intent is talk about the position and how it will work with the City Commission, not to talk about the applicants.
The city has an ordinance which describes what city leadership may do with or without a City Manager. When the position was recently advertised, it was listed as a full-time position.
The job description states that the City Manager is the administrative officer of the city and is responsible to the City Commission for the efficient administration of all affairs of the city, including management supervision over all departments.
The City Manager supervisory control over all departments including the police department and the department of public works as well as having the supervisory responsibility over the accounting, budgeting, personnel, purchasing, and related management functions of the city clerk and the city treasurer.
State Tax Tribunal hurts City
Brinker presented a bill that was sent to the city by the Berrien County Treasurer which reflects a State Tax Tribunal ruling. Comcast asked the tribunal for a hearing on their tax bill regarding some personal property which is partially in the township and partially in the city. In their ruling that reduced the amount that Comcast was to pay for taxes, the Tax Tribunal elected to go retroactive to 2014-2015 and this year. Based on their decision, the city lost a fair amount of revenue.
Where Berrien County has paid the tax payer, they are now out to recoup the portion of those taxes which they should get back, thus the bill to the city for $80,257.58. In paying out the county, the city will then have to go back and recoup taxes they paid out for example to the library or the fire department. “This is a good example of why you need to keep money in the fund balance,” Brinker told the City Commission. They did not vote on the payment to the county and will re-visit the bill at their next meeting.
Brinker presented an assortment of committee assignments for the City Commission’s approval:
For the Joint committee to select a School Resource Officer, he selected Commissioner Bill Whitney to work with the school system and the township on working toward an agreement and a selection for the program.
In addition to having Commissioners Luke Strunk and Duane Cobb on the Personnel Committee, Brinker added Rick Kinzler.
Where Kevin Beckman had continued to represent the city on the Joint Fire Board even after no longer being a City Commissioner, Beckman had asked to give up the Fire Board. Brinker said it does not have to be a Commissioner and he recommended Melanie Marvin to take Beckman’s position.
In the past there had been a Water-Sewer Committee that met monthly. While Brinker said there is a need for the committee to hear appeals for the water bills of residents, he suggests that they should only meet on a quarterly basis, following the distribution of the water bills. Brinker recommended Larry Hehl, Luke Stunk and Deah Muth.
Last month Brinker named Duane Cobb as Mayor Pro Tem and also re-affirmed his position on the Finance Committee. Brinker said that he would also like to have Cobb serve on the re-energized Safety & Ordinance Committee. Brinker also recommended Bill Whitney and Rick Kinzler. He explained that while they might need to meet soon to answer some needs and requests for the police department, it should end up just being an as needed committee.
Lastly, Brinker recommended Lenore Becker for the Board of Review. She will be attending an upcoming training.
Brinker laid out a few goals for the City Commission at the end of their meeting. While he called sewer an infiltration he said he would almost place infiltration above sewer because the sooner they fix the infiltration problem the sooner they start saving money.
He said he would like to see a plan in the next six months that they can talk about on how they will come up with the money, how they will approach it, and what they will exactly be doing to fix it. Strunk reminded the City Commission that when they start getting results of the SAW Grant work they will have an asset plan which will help identify the largest amounts of infiltration.
The other main focus for the city should be the improvement to the city streets according to Brinker. He set another six month timeline on a plan that the city could work on that will define the roads by priority and have a plan which might even include additional funding. “A special assessment might be necessary,” Brinker said.
In addition, Brinker would like to establish a work group much like what the DDA did that captures the expertise from the people in the community not necessarily from the city leaders alone. “I don’t know how it will all fit together but I want to start having some conversations with those people,” Brinker said.