Changes Come To White Cloud: A Chat With Their New Acting Mayor
By N3 Editorial Team
The City of White Cloud has undergone some recent changes within the administration and City Council. With the retirement of Gary Zatalokin, Mayor Don Barnhard has applied for and been selected as the Department of Public Works Supervisor for the City and will be stepping down as mayor to assume his new position. Mayor Pro Tem Charles Chandler will be assuming the reins as acting mayor until the regular election in November.
With changes often come rumors so N3 caught up with the soon to be acting mayor to pose a few questions:
N3-Tell us about the process that led to the Mayor taking on the DPW position?
CC-Good question and you are certainly right about rumors, false narratives and fake news. As I have learned in my short tenure in White Cloud municipal government nothing is simple or without controversy. Filling our DPW Supervisors position is a case study.
Thanks for letting me get my White Cloud soap box out and hold forth on this event and the opportunity that the residents have. The normal staffing process began when City Manager Lora Kalkofen learned early this year that two of our Department of Public Works employees would soon be retiring resulting in a critical shortage of qualified employees holding the necessary licenses to meet the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requirements for municipal water service. DPW employee Mr. John Kosla an Operator Class II and an S-4 Water license retired on March 31st and then Mr. Gray Zatalokin, DPW Supervisor submitted his notice stating that he wished to retire on June 2, 2017. Supervisor Zatalokin has served the City for 40 years and holds the critical DEQ required S-3 Water License. By June we would lose two valuable employees with intimate knowledge of our legacy Water System and the required DEQ licenses.
Manager Kalkofen having both the authority and responsibility to staff City Departments had been in front of this situation and by February had posted the two vacancies in the local paper, MI Works, City website and with the Michigan Rural Water Association. She hired Mr. Eric Hoenshell to fill Mr. Kosla’s position. The recruiting efforts to fill Supervisor Zatalokin’s position was disappointing; she received nine applicants and only one with limited DPW experience and an S-4 Water License, a grade below our DEQ requirements.
This was somewhat surprising because the Supervisor’s position includes an attractive salary and benefit package.
Now faced with few options Manager Kalkofen negotiated an agreement with outgoing Supervisor Zatalokin whereby we could operate our City Water System under his S-3 Licenses until one of our new DPW employees obtained their S-3 Licenses. Our newest DPW employee Eric Hoenshell will be able to test for his S-3 Water Licenses on November 1st of 2017. Next she approached Mayor Barnhard and asked him to consider taking the DPW Supervisor’s Position. This was an easy ask because the Mayor certainly met the requirements of the position, has worked closely with the DPW department for many years and had a working knowledge of our legacy City Water System. After some lengthy, intense and probably emotional negotiations Mayor Barnhard agreed to the terms and conditions associated with the Supervisor Position.
The Mayor did not have the required critical S-3 Water Licenses; however, this was covered because Supervisor Zatalokin would remain in the picture until our new DPW employees obtained their required S-3 Water Licenses. An added benefit of this option would be that the Mayor and Supervisor Zatalokin would be working together during this transition providing an ideal opportunity for a transfer of 40 years of tribal knowledge.
Following City policy and procedures Manger Kalkofen convened the Personnel Committee and presented her recommendation for DPW Supervisor. The Committee reviewed the requirements of the position, the Mayor’s qualifications, and S-3 Water Licenses agreement with retiring Supervisor Zatalokin. The Committee agreed that the Mayor was a match for position and recommend that Manager Kalkofen present her recommendation to the full City Council for approval. She did this at the next scheduled Council Meeting and the Council approved her recommendations for the DPW Supervisor position.
N3-Was there consideration for the Mayor to remain in office and assume the DPW position?
CC-Yes there was and Manager Kalkofen and Mayor Barnhard negotiated the terms and conditions for the DPW Supervisor’s Position in good faith and followed the appropriate procedures, sought council when necessary and the outcome of their efforts was that good decisions were made that will benefit both the Mayor and the City of White Cloud.
The Mayor keeps his own counsel about his personal business, however I am sure resigning and taking the job as DPW supervisor was not an easy decision for him. He has been a business owner and operator and his own boss for most of his life. Now he would be taking a very visible position that has structure, defined hours of work, budgets and employees to manager, equipment to maintain, and answer questions like when are you are going to fix James Street and why truck parts cost so much. Also, reporting to the City Manager with oversight from the Personnel Committee and the City Council will be a significant change.
That being said I feel a larger reason for the Mayor taking the position is that he feels he can effectively address some of the City’s significant infrastructure problems and do quality work for the residents of White Cloud without the usual critiques from the social media crowd and oversight by local TV reporters.
Additionally, Mr. Barnhard has been our Mayor for over 12 years and has many friends and a staunch group of supporters in the City and I feel that one of the reasons he wanted to remain as Mayor until the end of his current term was that he felt an obligation and responsibility to those supporters.
It should be noted that some felt that the discussion around whether Mr. Barnhard could remain as Mayor and hold the DPW supervisor position was a clear case of incompatibility and conflict of interest and should never been considered.
Well, it was not clear cut and that is why Manager Kalkofen sought advice and counsel from our City Attorney Mr. Cliff H. Bloom. From the well researched and argued opinion by the attorney it appears that for some less populated Municipalities (less than a population of 40,000) there are some exceptions that would probably allowed the Mayor to hold both positions simultaneously if approved by the City Council. The Mayor did the right thing by the City and resigned and members of the City Council thanked him for doing so and his long years of service as Mayor.
Manager Kalkofen wanted to close the controversy around the relationship between Barnhard Construction Company and the City and build a firewall that would eliminate future appearance of conflict of interest or impropriety. This was done by adding some additional terms and conditions to the standard employment agreement. They stated that the City will not do business with a company owned/operated by employee Barnhard. City work would take priority over any and all work that was privately contracted by Mr. Barnhard or through Barnhard Construction. Mayor Barnhard would submit a letter of resignation to be effective on Sunday May 28, 2017 and employment as DPW Supervisor would begin on Monday, May 29, 2017. Supervisor Barnhard would obtain the required S-3 Water License and provide a monthly report and attend one monthly Council meeting to discuss DPW activities and status of various projects.
N3-What steps do you feel need to be taken to help the city move forward?
CC-In my opinion there are several vital steps that we as White Cloud residents need to take to remain a functioning municipality. First we need to define our reason for being and determine why there should even be a City of White Cloud? Simply put I believe our work is to develop a strategic vision for our City. We need to determine who and what we want to be and work to develop a series of practical plans and recruit a core group of leaders to get us there. This is work that we as White Cloud citizens need to do for ourselves. We can get outside expertise to help with the process but developing our vision is ours to own and to commit to. We cannot go back to those happy days or stay where we currently are, we must acknowledge and accept our limitations and challenges, embrace that reality and move forward or let entropy manage our affairs until we are no longer a functioning city.
Next we must abandon our insular focus and strive to develop a beneficial partnership with County government, area nonprofit agencies and the other Newaygo County municipalities and even beyond to the larger western Michigan Economic Development area.
Then we need to develop our strengths and a brand image. In my opinion our strengths are our location at the intersections of M-37, M-20, the Pere Marquette short line, the White River, the southern entrance to the Huron-Manistee National Forest and the abundant land we own inside our City. We say that we are a recreational destination and our City Sign states that we live “Where the North Begins and Pure Water Flows.” The question is this, how is this demonstrated in our City and how are we fulfilling our brand image?
Finally our leaders and City Hall need to own the White Cloud Narrative. We need to present fact based information about our City, tell our own story and not let social media or local news reporters or the folks in their morning Coffee and donut meetings tell their versions.
N3-There is an election in November with a trio of council seats up as well as mayor. Do you plan to run for mayor and if not, what would you want to see in a candidate or candidates?
CC-No I do not plan to run for Mayor because I will be 75 this year and feel that we need a much younger person in this important position. I have two more years on the City Council and have commitments on other boards and committees and I feel that I can be more effective as an informal senior spokesman and advocate representing the best interest of White Cloud in other ways.
Before I offer an opinion on who should campaign for our four open seats some context for the work to be done should be mentioned. In my limited experience and observation it appears that we manage our City by reaction to distractions, issues and various fractions rather than to our master plan. The potholes on James Street and this little tempest in a teapot regarding the Mayor taking the DPW supervisor position is a case in point. These kinds of issues take our attention and resources away from our larger issues that need our full attention, examples would be our deteriorating streets and bridges, blight, and ageing and deteriorating housing stocks. Of our housing stocks about 45 present being rental properties managed by about 100 different landlords, most absentee. This results in continually changing demographics with many City dwellers being short term renters who, given the voting patterns and attendance at City meetings and participation in City organizations, have little or no vested interest in the long term success of our City.
Even many of our middle class families are seasonal residents spending winters in warmer locations. If we are going to attract a different demographic or businesses to White Cloud at a minimum we need to present prospective residents a City with quality housing and lots of curb appeal. We must find businesses and developers that are willing to take a risk and invest in White Cloud, a significant Catch-22 challenge for our City leaders.
After stating the obvious our City and like many other Michigan municipalities are working with limited resources, part time staffs and declining revenues. The challenges and cost of managing crumbling infrastructures and providing basic services to citizens is rising and we are on our own in these challenges because Michigan is dead last of all 50 states when it comes to block grants and revenue sharing with municipalities like ours. We are blessed in that we have a frugal and effective and efficient City Manager that makes good business decisions and manages our thin budget and part time staff very carefully.
It is not all doom and gloom here in White Cloud; we have new Family Health Care Center, a new feed mill going up, a new airport and an upcoming opportunity to fund and build a much needed Library. All examples of incremental progress but not necessarily events that we need to change the economic and cultural dynamics in White Cloud.
In my opinion the citizens of White Cloud now have a golden moment to close a controversial chapter in the City’s history and began a new one. Never before have so many positive pieces been in place to facilitate and implement positive change within our City. Starting with White Cloud City Hall we have a new and very efficient and experienced City Manager, a new Chief of Police, and soon a new and experienced DPW supervisor in place. Moving up the chain we have a new County Administrator Chris Wren and new Sheriff Bob Mendham that are working with Manager Kalkofen and Chief Dan Evans to improve communications and relationships with the County and explore ways to share information and leverage resources.
We have new representatives and pro White Cloud supporters from the Newaygo County Development Office and the River Country Chamber of Commerce to help with business development opportunities in White Cloud. And now we have an unprecedented opportunity to field a new legislative body with the election of three new City Council members and a new Mayor. Not that our current Council members aren’t doing the job they are asked to do, however, and again in my opinion, filling these four seats is all about the future work to be done, about our reason for being, building and implementing our vision of where we want to go as a City. Remember that old saw that reminds us that if we always do what we always did we will always get what we always got.
I think we should consider candidates for Mayor and City Council that are in their 30s and 40s with degrees or technical training, with experiences in business or nonprofit organization where they had develop long term plans and manage resources and budgets or generate revenue or raise funds and manage staff. They should be comfortable using computer based and communication technologies including social media and be able to develop beneficial networks and partnerships. Most important they should be able to serve as a role model and take positions on various area committees and boards and be able to go out and represent and market the strengths of White Cloud so that we can compete in this current economy. Because compete we must to bring in new business and attract new and different demographics to White Cloud, be they millennial’s or retiring deep pocket Baby Boomers looking for fun recreational opportunities.
We need these skills and experiences at City Hall now because after all it is a business operation and we are the shareholders.
Our City Manager and staff manage the day to day operations of our City but they need help with these larger issues and in a perfect world it would be great if the Mayor and the Council Members would be able to become activist and advocates for White Cloud and go beyond simply going to scheduled meetings and approving monthly expenses, or various resolutions. All important tasks but we must move beyond electing known personalities and in November elect professionals that can be leaders and role models to represent White Cloud in the larger community and help develop a new brand image and implement that all important strategic vision.
And we need to recruit qualified candidates quickly because the filing deadline for our November 7th elections is July 25th. It is time for those in White Cloud with these qualifications to step up and make the commitment to turn the page.
In November the Citizen of White Cloud will have a golden moment to make a significant comment on our reason for being.
N3-You’re a big fan of your city. Tell us what you like the most about White Cloud.
CC-Finally an easy one, of course it is the people, my friends, neighbors and the folks that we interact with on a daily basis, people like Woody Bowmen at the Bank or Bert Jackson at the Hardware Store, my neighbors, Eric Rudert, Mike Ross or the Roberts and 95 year old Cool Bob Gill. All wonderful authentic folks that are straight forward easy to know and work with and when asked are helpful and generous to a fault. And all the great people that I get to work with at City Hall, the County officers and staff and Rotary members all great people trying to do the right thing. I really like my neighborhood; our home on Webster Street where we can grow flowers and shrubs and can meet passerby’s like Kay Scott or a Pekinese named Isaac and have front yard conversations. Most importantly I like White Cloud for its location as a base of operations and access to all the wonderful woods and waters and recreational activities that are here. In minutes I can be hiking on the North Country National Scenic Trail, kayaking on our White River, fishing for steelhead, salmon on the famous Muskegon and Pere Marquette Rivers, or attending a basketball game at Ferris State in Big Rapids, or shopping at Magic Land for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. In an hour or so I could attend a movie or event like Artprize in Grand Rapids, walk the beach in Grand Haven and in about five hours I could be in Canada or sitting somewhere in Grant Park in Chicago watching some street musician perform and eating Garrett's Popcorn.
What is not to like especially on this beautiful blue sky spring day?
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