Williamston City Council sees ‘spirited’ back-and-forth, developments in city manager search

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What was once a calm Williamston City Council meeting turned into a heated debate within the city hall chambers, pitting the Farmers’ Market Ad Hoc Committee and the Williamston City Council.

A “spirited back-and-forth” is how the newly-minted council member Daniel Rhines described it.

The Williamston Farmers’ Market is set to run for May 20 to Oct. 14. It’s an annual tradition many residents are fond of — including a number of council members.

Every Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., farmers from around the area set up shop, bringing in goods like produce, baked items, flowers and more.

Multiple members of the Farmers’ Market Ad Hoc Committee were in attendance at the meeting. They looked for the city council to extend their committee for another year, appearing on the agenda as the second discussion item.

And as the discussion continued, the nature of the meeting turned tense.

“I’ve always enjoyed a spirited back-and-forth,” Rhines said. “It doesn’t scare me. You want to build consensus, but people are not always going to agree. Just as long as everyone understands where they’re coming from, that’s part of the deal.”

The Williamston City Council, with all of its members, receive community feedback during a meeting on March 26, 2018, at the Williamston City Hall. Photo by: Souichi Terada.

City council members asked a number of questions, with the ad hoc committee giving their input as to why they sought after one year.

The committee wanted to extend its term for another year, meaning it would have the backing of the city council.

“They need to convince us,” Mayor Tammy Gilroy said. “At the end of the day, that’s going to be their job. They need to convince us to extend it for another year.”

Since the matter at hand was technically a discussion item, no concrete moves were taken. The council did, however, move to make it an action item for the next council meeting.

Gilroy added she enjoys the discussion between the community members and the city council. In other words, if members of the ad hoc committee don’t care, then they wouldn’t be at the meeting to begin with.

“When it gets tense like that, I’ve never had to use the gavel to call the meeting back in to order,” Gilroy said. “I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to come off as defensive or authoritative because I feel like we’re adults. We all should be able to discuss something and have a passionate discussion.”

Behind the scenes, Gilroy did say she meets with council members one-on-one sporadically, looking for their input and opinions on a number of topics — including issues like the ad hoc committee.

However, the mayor also noted she’s careful not to violate the Open Meetings Act or form a quorum during those meetings.

It means that due to the public nature of city council, every meeting must be scheduled and available to the public. If it isn’t, it violates the law.

“I’ll have discussions with individual council members and just kind of get their feelings or thoughts,” Gilroy said. “It’s OK to share your opinion.”

Lost in the shuffle of the meeting was that the city council moved to appoint its next city manager. The move comes after the former city manager, Alan Dolley, announced his retirement in February.

The Williamston City Council listens to concerns during a discussion point by the Farmers’ Market Ad Hoc Committee on March 26, 2018, at the Williamston City Hall. Photo by: Souichi Terada.

Originally, the city received 16 candidates who applied for the opening. However, that number was dwindled to six before an individual pulled out of the running. All in all, the Williamston City Council moved on with five members who made it to the first round of interviews.

They were given identical questions, and while Gilroy said the first round was productive, it was on a much more surface level.

After that first round, though, the number was cut down to three remaining candidates: Larry Collins, Susan Montenegro and Corey Schmidt. And despite the questions again being identical, Gilroy said the city council was able to go more in-depth with the second round of the interview.

“During that session, we had more dialogue,” Gilroy said. “We really had great exchanges last week during that second round of interviews. We had one candidate who stood above the rest.”

That one candidate is Schmidt, who used to reside at Marlette, Michigan, where he gained experience. Gilroy said there were a number of other factors that went into the decision.

“I think that the reason why that we really like Corey is because he really did his homework, he did his research on Williamston,” Gilroy said. “He came prepared.”

In terms of who sits behind the desk at the Williamston City Hall, there will be another change as Schmidt is poised to take on the new role as city manager.

“The search for the city manager,” council member John Bisard said of his favorite moment as a city council member. “Interviewing, going through that process. Seeing who’s available out there for us.”