Clawson Gets Interim City Manager After Irwin’s Resignation
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 19 2020)
Clawson, MI – A special meeting was held on Tuesday, Jan. 14 after Clawson City Manager Erin Irwin turned in a resignation letter on Jan. 13, effective immediately.
Recently elected Mayor Reese Scripture told Council that she had spoken with Irwin about concerns over his job performance. Scripture, or any council member, has the option of requesting a discussion about a city manager’s performance, however Irwin resigned before that step could happen.
Citing employee privacy rights, Scripture declined to discuss what those concerns were.
The City Council meeting was called so as to move Kathy Leenhouts up to the Interim City Manager position for a period of up to one year, and to give Police Chief Scott Sarvello a second position as Assistant City Manager. Leenhouts will continute to manage Recreation and Senior Services, as well as oversee the Clerk’s office as the City is searching for a full time clerk. Council also voted to begin the process of creating an RFP for a long term City Manager.
Not everyone on council was comfortable with the process. Councilpeople Paula Millan and Sue Moffitt voted no to the appointments – not because of the people involved, but because of the process.
Millan remembered being on council just over a year ago when the person serving as City Manager for nine years departed the position unexpectedly. Mark Pollock had worked for the City of Clawson nearly 20 years, starting in the Finance Department and working his way up to City Manager. The announcement of his departure shocked many in the public, and it was one of many issues that prompted Scripture to first sue the city, then eventually run for office.
Scripture’s lawsuit was over several matters of transparency and violations of the Open Meetings Act, and it was recently settled, with the city making new efforts, including training for council members on the OMA.
That’s why Irwin’s sudden resignation was surprising to Millan. “What I really don’t like about this is that it’s very reminiscent of what happened a year and a half ago that people were up in arms over. …I think people matter, and I think process matters. I’m really just upset about this,” Millan said. “Everyone is concerned about transparency. Everyone wants things done the right way, what’s best for the community. We have to consider what’s best for these human beings, and for us to. I feel like this is just a slap shot.”
In light of Irwin’s resignation, Scripture proposed moving up longtime employee Kathy Leenhouts in hopes of getting through the budget process with a staff that is familiar with the City and it’s needs. Leenhouts had already been planning to retire in a few years.
“I approached her because I think she does a very good job at what she does,” Mayor Scripture said. “I think that she has a number of skills that we need right now. I think that given some of the extreme challenges that the city is about to face, that has been put off for the last 2-3 years, that have not been addressed, that have just gotten worse because of the reputation Clawson now has in greater Michigan – municipalities everywhere – I cannot think that Clawson is an appealing city to attract a City Manager to. The last adventure that we were on, where we went interim and the entire budget had to be redone, was a mess.”
Millan and Moffitt were the dissenting votes on all three of the main matters. The prevailing yes votes allow the City Attorney to negotiate terms for the employee’s new roles, so details have not been finalized as far as salaries and benefits.
Councilperson Kathy Phillips was among those that supported Leenhouts’ appointment, stating “she has the respect of the employees and the staff, and that’s something we have to look at.”
Mayor Scripture urged the public to pay attention to upcoming City Council agendas, as the budget process will be a challenging one. Learn more about the City of Clawson, including council meetings, visit their website.
Note: This story has been updated to include Leenhouts’ previous positions with the city.