Manager hopefuls share similarities

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Those are some of the traits shared by Lewis Steinbrecher, Jeffrey Pederson and Ron Singel, the candidates vying for the city manager's post.

The three, who were interviewed by city council on Friday, appear to have one thing in common they all work in cities where the staff doesn't want to see them leave.

"I have told him he's right in his prime and if he can get something better than us, he should do it, as much as we'd hate to lose him," said William Radigan, mayor of Vermillion, S.D., where Pederson is city manager.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Kim Tunnicliff, mayor of Albion, Mich., where Steinbrecher is city manager.

"He's a nice guy, an open guy, and there's not a mean bone in his body," he said. "He's inspired a lot of confidence. He's done very good things for our city. He's a real consensus builder."

And in Old Town, Maine, where Singel is city manager, employees were just learning the news that Singel might be leaving their city.

"He's a very nice person and a fine manager," said administrative assistant Nancy Battick, who served as acting city manager while Singel was in Kent. "We certainly would hate to lose him. He's very popular with the council and the townspeople."

In Albion, where Steinbrecher has been city manager for three years, the mayor credited him with pulling together a staff that had been disorganized and discouraged. He replaced the city's finance director, who left shortly before his Steinbrecher took over as city manager, and also replaced the police chief, who "needed to be retired," Tunnicliff said.

When asked if replacing the police chief had been a controversial issue, the mayor said, "It would have been, if anyone other than Lew had handled it."

Albion is a town that had once been home to several auto parts manufacturers, until the American automobile industry suffered a setback in the 1970's. That left an ethnically diverse city with a high unemployment rate.

But despite the poor economy, the town was able to pass a bond issue to obtain an alternative water source to the city's contaminated well field by a margin of almost 80 to 20 percent, the mayor noted.

"Without Lew, it may have passed, but certainly not by that high of a percentage," Tunnicliff said.

The town is home to the private Albion College, which houses about 1,600 students.

Pederson spent five years working in cities in Iowa before returning to Vermillion, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of South Dakota, as city manager in 1989.

Vermillion, a city of about 10,000 residents, and the University of South Dakota, with about 7,000 students, is smaller than Kent. But since the number of students is almost the same as the number of residents, the population of Vermillion, like Kent, almost doubles when school is in session.

Radigan credits Pederson with helping bring two major new industries to town, Polaris Industries, which makes snowmobiles, and Gateway 2000, a distributor of mail order computers.

"He's a fine young man," Radigan said. "He's served the city very well for a number of years. He's very capable at what he does and he's a very intelligent person."

Pederson is also credited with using a new residential development to build a new public golf course, coordinating grants to build a new bridge, and creating a joint recycling program with nearby Yankton, the only other city in South Dakota with a city manager.

Singel, city manager of Old Town, Maine, since 1994, is a native of Peninsula and graduated from Kent State University. He has said he is seeking the job to be close to his father, who recently moved into a nursing home in Stow.

Robert Fiske, mayor of Old Town, described Singel as a "progressive" city manager who looks to his department heads for their expertise and lets them work to the best of their abilities.

"He relies on other people," he said. "He's not the type of city manager who always has to make the final decision. He relies on the department heads to bring their expertise to the table. He's a quiet leader."

Singel is credited with advancing the clean-up of an abandoned paper mill site on its river. The mill is being torn down now, the mayor said, and the city is beginning to consider redevelopment proposals for the site.

"He has good humor and gets along with "even the crazies" that sometimes criticize the city," stated an evaluation by the Mercer Group, which completed background checks on the candidates.

Robert Felton, chairman of council's committee of the whole, said he hopes a decision can be made no later than Sept. 15.

"If we're going to delay it, let's delay it for a reason," he said, adding that some council members may decide a visit to the candidate's home town might be in order. Contract negotiations will also have to be completed before an announcement is made, he added.

Council will meet at 6 p.m. Monday in executive session for further

discussion about the candidates.

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