In the past few weeks the City of East Lansing has lost a wave of officials, and people at a special City Council meeting on March 14 demanded answers.
It was announced that same day that the Acting Director of Public Works Nicole McPherson resigned from her post. McPherson is in a long line of city employees who have recently left their posts. Other departed officials include former City Manager George Lahanas whose contract was terminated by Council; City Clerk Jennifer Shuster; Deputy City Clerk Kathryn Gardner; Planning, Building and Development Director Tom Fehrenbach; Human Resources Director Shelli Neumann; Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser; Assistant Director of Parks, Recreation & Arts Wendy Wilmers Longpre.
At the meeting, Historic District Commission Chair Diane Wing spoke adamantly about her concern with the resignations and absences.
“I don’t know what’s going on in this city, I don’t claim to know what’s happening. But there’s something endemic that’s happening in this city that so many of us love,” said Wing “This is a crisis that the city has. All of your focus should be on figuring out what is the problem.”
Interim City Manager Randall Talifarro acknowledged the loss of city officials. He thanked the employees who were leaving and praised their work and asked them if there was a solution to any issues.
“I want to acknowledge that retirement or resignations are very personal,” said Talifarro. “We are aware of the retention issues and we will have strategies to deal with that, but to some extent it is natural when you have a change in leadership.”
The resignations began shortly after Council terminated Lahanas’ contract back in January.
Mayor Ron Bacon recognized that the city is shorthanded and praised the staff that is working hard to keep things running smoothly. Along with Talifarro, Bacon promised more transparency with staffing searches and wanted to respect the choices made by the individuals resigning. They seemed to agree that they did not want to discuss the reasons for the resignations, but did recognize that the city was short staffed and Council is working hard to get those staff support.
“We will respect their individual choices that they are making,” said Bacon. “A priority is the return to the prioritization of staff count so one individual doesn’t have every single piece of this fall on them.”
The City Council plans to be involved in the hiring process of new employees and managers of departments.Council members discussed ways they could better organize the search and hiring process. Councilman George Brookover suggested that Talifarro and Interim City Clerk Marie Wicks’ created a special report, due March 18, that could be shared publicly, informing the community of all staffing changes. However, considering that some positions had no job descriptions and more time would be required for this report to be created.
“This is a nice priority,” Bacon said. “I think there are bigger priorities. This is going to be something we work towards. I don’t think it’s a next-week priority. Frankly, I think the priority is getting people support.”
A list of open positions can be found on the city website and council members have said they will do their best to be as transparent as possible as the searches progress.