BELDING — The search for the next Belding city manager has been narrowed down to two candidates after a lengthy interview process Saturday at the Pere Marquette Depot in Belding.
Members of Belding City Council interviewed five candidates for the position during an eight and a half hour meeting that began at 8:30 a.m and concluded at 5 p.m.
Five candidates were asked the same 25 questions written and submitted by members of City Council. At the end of the day, council members reached a split decision, settling on two candidates to evaluate further.
The five candidates included, in order of interview, Margaret Mullendore of Buchanan, John Dougherty of Reedsburg, Wis., Elizabeth Ladner of Hiawatha, Kan., David Thayer of Garden and Michael Mitchell of Hillsdale.
Each candidate interviewed for approximately one hour Saturday and was asked questions by Robert Hamilton of the Michigan Municipal League, the company hired by the city to perform the search process that generated 25 potential candidates for the position.
Questions ranged from the topics of generating jobs in Belding, how candidates would become acclimated with the Belding community, experiences dealing with historic districts, opinions on upholding ordinances, work experience, management policy and future goals for the city of Belding.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s meeting, council members narrowed the search down to Mullendore and Mitchell, citing them as the best candidates.
Council members Mike Scheid and Joe Feuerstein voted in favor of Mitchell, citing his experience and favorable answers to council questions. Council members Ron Gunderson and Tom Jones voted in favor of Mullendore, citing her preparation and attention to detail.
Councilwoman Andrea Belding said she could not decide between the two without evaluating both candidates further.
“I can’t decide, I’m very torn,” Belding said. “I’m reviewing my notes and I like a lot about both of them. I think both of them would be excellent for the job.”
Mullendore, a graduate of Greenville High School, earned her bachelor of science degree in sociology and psychology from Grand Valley State University (GVSU), graduating in 1997. She went on to obtain her master’s degree in public administration and urban and regional affairs in 2001.
After serving as a graduate assistant at GVSU, she was hired as the associate planner of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission-Council of Governments. She then moved on to hold the position of administrative analyst for the Engineering Department of Grand Rapids.
In 2005, she was hired as the city manager of Buchanan at a salary of $88,313. Buchanan is a city of approximately 4,456 people, according to the 2010 census.
According to an article from the Niles Daily Star published in June 2010, Mullendore and the Buchanan City Commission reached a mutual agreement for her resignation citing “personal reasons.” She held the position for nearly five years.
Six months later, Mullendore was hired as the village manager of Cassopolis at a salary of $55,000. Cassopolis is a village of 1,774, according to the 2010 census.
According to an article in the Cassopolis Vigilant published in August 2012, Mullendore resigned from her position without giving comment.
In her interview Saturday, Mullendore said she wants nothing more than to call Belding “her home.”
“While physically I have been residing in Southwest Michigan for the last seven and a half years, my heart has remained in West Michigan,” she said. “Growing up literally next door in Greenville, I have a significant amount of firsthand knowledge of Belding, as well as having many friends that live and work in Belding.”
Mullendore said she could remember playing in Gus Macker tournaments when she was younger as well as softball at Demorest Field in Belding.
“Frankly, in my professional career, I have never been more excited about the potential for a community than I am about Belding,” she said.
During her interview, Mullendore cited three specifics: improving local streets, marketing the city’s assets and establishing a relationship with the community as the priorities she would address if she were to be the city’s next manager.
“Local streets, I think that’s a big one,” she said.
Mullendore cited High Street as an example of a city street that is in disrepair and in need of improvement.
Mullendore then pointed to buildings such as the city’s museum, the historic Belrockton, as one of several assets the city should market.
“You’ve got some incredible assets here. I’ve visited the museum and the children’s museum, and it’s a diamond in the rough,” she said. “There are some things that you can do as far as marketing to help showcase those assets.”
But most important of the three, Mullendore said she wants to establish solid relationships with council members, city employees and members of the community.
“I think I need to establish credibility and let people know who I am in the community,” she said. “I think it’s important to establish a great relationship between city hall and the various stakeholders throughout the community. I want to let people know that I’m available. I want to have that positive rapport.”
Michael Mitchell attended Central Michigan University (CMU), where he earned his bachelor of science in political science with minors in economics and history in 1992. He earned his master’s degree in public administration in 2000, also from CMU.
After several internships related to city management, Mitchell served as village and city managers of several communities. His most recent positions included managing the village of Jonesville, the city of Hillsdale and the city of New Buffalo.
In Jonesville, a village of 2,258 people according to the 2010 census, Mitchell served from 2000 to 2007 with a salary of $58,000. He left Jonesville to accept the position of city manager at Hillsdale, a city of 8,305, according to the 2010 census, where he earned a salary of $83,000.
According to an article published in the Hillsdale Daily News in February 2011, Mitchell resigned from his position to accept the position of city manager in New Buffalo in order to be closer to family. In New Buffalo, Mitchell managed a city of 1,883 people, according to the 2010 census, and earned a salary of $78,000.
According to an article published in The News Dispatch in August 2012, Mitchell resigned after 18 months after submitting a letter of resignation to city council members. The letter provided no specifics as for the resignation.
In his interview Saturday, Mitchell said he is also looking for a community that he can call home and spend an extended amount of time in.
“I want to find a community that I can call home and where I am a part of a team that works in an ethical and professional manner to achieve success for our residents and property owners,” he said. “I want to showcase my experience and skills for the city of Belding to illustrate the dedication and work of the city council and the Belding personnel in making our city a destination for families to live and business to call home.”
During his interview, Mitchell cited three specifics: becoming a “student of Belding,” meeting with representatives of the commercial district and overseeing the demolition of the Gibson buildings as his top priorities if he were to be the city’s next manager.
“I would need to become a student of Belding,” he said. “There are things on the surface I can learn about from newspaper articles, but I would want to learn what your processes are, the ways things are handled — I want to know all the unique little things that this town does.”
Citing the future demolition of the Gibson buildings and clock tower across the street, Mitchell said he wanted to observe the actions of Electrolux closely.
“I would like to try to build some relationship as a new party coming in that might bridge some negativity that might still exist between the city and (Electrolux),” he said.
Mitchell said his highest priority would be to meet with those in the commercial district to help expand business in Belding.
“I’m very concerned,” he said, citing an example of sitting with his wife at Lombardo’s Pizza for lunch as the only two customers at the business. “There’s no foot traffic here in Belding. We have to start creating a new future for downtown. It’s what we do from this point on that’s going to define for the next few generations what this town is about.”
A special meeting of the City Council will be March 14, where councilmembers will evaluate and discuss both Mullendore and Mitchell a second time after background checks are performed on both candidates. A decision may or may not be made on the next city manager of Belding at that time.
Contract negotiations will likely be performed at a date after the March 14 meeting.
Previous city manager Randy DeBruine was hired in 2004 at a salary of $75,000. He resigned in Dec. 2012 with a salary of $93,000 on a contract that extended through 2014.