(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 13, 2013)
After interviewing five potential candidates, the Pleasant Ridge City Commission has chosen former Wayne City Manager John Zech to serve as Interim City Manager while a long-term replacement for Sherry Ball is sought.
Zech retired from Wayne in 2010, after having worked his way up to City Manager over a 31 year career. He’s also served on the Board of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and is has been a member of International City Manager’s Association for over three decades. Additionally he served on the Michigan Municipal League Board of Directors for three years. In 2011 Zech took on the challenge of serving as Interim City Administrator in Allen Park as the city faced financial peril. There he made tough recommendations and helped the city find ways to manage their budget shortfalls.
Pleasant Ridge Commissioners voted Thursday to enter into negotiations with Zech, and they hope to put his experience to work by the beginning of the year.
The hiring of an interim city manager has been a hot topic in the community since Ball announced her retirement earlier this year. Ball had been working closely with Recreation Director Scott Pietrzak, grooming him to be her replacement. He currently serves as the Acting City Manager. Ball herself had worked her way up from a mail clerk over the course of her 26 years with the city.
Some residents feel that Pietrzak should remain in the position, handling both Recreation Department responsibilities and managing the city, arguing that it would save money and would carry on the tradition of leaders rising up from within. The Commission instead decided to seek “an outside perspective” during the city’s time of transition by hiring a professional interim.
“I don’t think running for six months on 2/3 staff is something I want the commission to have to do and I don’t want the city to have to live with that sort of shortfall,” said Commissioner Ann Perry. “To take a major position away would leave a big hole in the city and we wouldn’t be able to fully operate and run smoothly, let along do all this new work we need to do.”
Among the tasks facing city leadership, Perry lists managing upcoming road construction projects, balancing the budget, guiding the master plan and the parks plan, working with an upcoming Citizens Advisory Committee to access the need for a Headlee override, and conducting the search for the long-term city manager. The freshness of the Commission also plays a role in the need for experienced leadership, with the most senior elected officials only having served two years thus far.
In addition to workload, there are philosophical reasons why an outsider can help. Metzger said Zech’s hiring comes from “a firm belief that Pleasant Ridge has stayed insular for too long and, in addition to getting us engaged in regional affairs, we must look for best practices and expertise outside as a way to gauge our practices.”
“We believe John Zech exemplifies the qualities we need in someone who can guide us while we search for a permanent replacement. Ann Perry and I have talked to a number of public officials who speak very highly of him, including city managers April McGrath, Mark Wollenweber and Alex Allie.”
Zech is expected to work approximately six months while the City and the Michigan Municipal League conduct the broader search. Recreation Director Pietrzak, who is now serving as Acting City Manager, is able to apply for the long-term position if he’d like.
For previous stories about Pleasant Ridge leadership, see: