The candidates, Jeffrey Pederson of South Dakota, Ron Singel of Maine and Lewis Steinbrecher of Michiganmingled with residents, business owners and city workers at the public reception, the first chance for people to meet the candidates for the city manager's position.
It is a job that has been vacant since March when city council purchased the balance of former city manager Priscilla Blanchard's contract for about $91,000.
Council plans to interview the three candidates tonight in executive session.
Thursday's reception was the first of its kind in Kent, said Mayor Jerry Fiala, who is preparing to appoint a city manager for the third time in his political career. In a previous search, council members had an informal dinner with candidates and their spouses, but the public was excluded.
"I'm really shocked that more of the public isn't here," he said. "We went out of our way to invite the public. I'm surprised this room isn't packed."
Singel, a native of Peninsula and a Kent State University graduate, talked about the "lucky miracle" of making the final cut because another candidate had dropped out of the running.
Singel, whose family lives in the area, has been considering moving back to Ohio to be near his father, who recently moved to a nursing home in Stow. In July, he learned about the job while reading the newspaper during a visit home.
Old Town, Maine, where Singel is city manager, is located next to Orono, Maine, home to the University of Maine. Old Town houses most of the university's off-campus students and faculty. Recently, he has been working to clean up a hazardous waste site downtown and redevelop the river front into a park and retail center.
Pederson talked about the similarities Kent shares with his city of Vermillion, S.D., home of the University of South Dakota. The town, with 10,000 residents, is smaller than Kent, but with about 7,000 students at the university, the size of the town effectively doubles every fall.
In his eight years in Vermillion, Pederson has concentrated on overseeing the development of a new industrial park and two major employers _ Polaris Industries, which manufactures snowmobiles, and Gateway 2000, a mail-order computer company. He also has worked on town-gown relationships, negotiating for cooperative athletic facilities on campus.
"It makes sense for communities with universities to work together," he said.
Steinbrecher is city manager of Albion, Mich., home of the private Albion College. He is intrigued by the economic development issues Kent is facing, he said.
Albion recently gave overwhelming approval to a tax issue to obtain a new well field, which was necessary because the city's well fields were contaminated and turned the water orange and black. The city, a diverse industrial town, which suffered severe setbacks when the automobile industry entered a recession in the 1970s, is still struggling to redevelop its tax base.
"It's a microcosm of Detroit," he said of Albion.
Council members watched the candidates interact with the public, but many reserved their questions for tonight's interviews.
"I'm impressed with all of them," said Councilman Wayne Wilson. "They're all able to jump into a conversation right off."
Fiala is looking forward to the interview session, he said.
"I'm interested in seeing what they can do for economic development,
seeing how they relate to council and staff," he said. "I want to know
if they're interested in staying in Kent more than three years or
whether they want to use Kent as a stepping stone."