Elk Rapids appoints TC mayor as interim village manager | Local News

ELK RAPIDS — Village Council members in a special meeting Wednesday voted unanimously to appoint Traverse City Mayor Richard Lewis as the village’s interim manager.

“He’s a very pleasant guy, I think that could be good,” said council member Charlie Pryde. “We’ve lost our city manager, we’ve lost our clerk and we’ve lost our city treasurer and he understands that. He can help us with that with a gentle hand and keep us moving forward.”

The village’s need for an interim manager comes in the wake of resignations by key staff, following an attorney’s investigation into a payroll error, which gave village employees and elected officials a double paycheck in October 2021.

Bryan Gruesbeck, Elk Rapids village manager since January 2021, resigned Dec. 5 after a report by attorney Scott Howard found Gruesbeck was among three staff who knew of the $32,000 error almost immediately, but did not inform council members, seek legal advice or rectify the over payment.

Much of that money has since been paid back, although council members did not provide an exact figure.

The other two staff identified in Howard’s report, former Treasurer Kerri Janisse, who now serves as the village’s planning and zoning administrator, and Clerk Kaitlyn Szczypka, were disciplined.

Szczypka has since resigned; she and Gruesbeck will leave their posts at the end of February.

A third resignation landed in front of village council members this week — that of Treasurer Kristine Davis, who was hired after the error occurred, uncovered it on her own while preparing for an audit, unaware others had known about the mistake for months.

Village Council members, at a regular meeting earlier this month, voted unanimously to accept a $17,000 executive search proposal from the Michigan Municipal League.

The MML proposal includes speaking with officials and staff to develop a candidate profile, compensation review, advertising the position, recruitment, pre-screening, including a review of applicants’ social media activity, and development of a shortlist of candidates.

MML Member Programs Manager Emily Kieliszewski said in the proposal a typical search of this type can take at least 120 days. Lewis, who has submitted a contract to the village, will be paid $70 an hour and work between 20 and 25 hours per week.

His tenure is expected to last about two months, although council members said he’d agreed to stay longer if necessary, but he wasn’t interested in the permanent full-time position.

An MML spokesperson previously confirmed staff with their organization had led the previous search for a village manager when Gruesbeck was hired.

“During the search, we utilized the standard executive search process that we do for multiple communities every year,” said Matt Bach, MML’s assistant director of strategic communications. “This includes an extensive background check and thorough review of references.”

An investigation by the Record-Eagle showed Gruesbeck was previously fired or asked to resign from three similar positions in Michigan and North Carolina, municipal records show.

When asked about this, MML previously referred the Record-Eagle to the village’s attorney.

Lewis’ term as mayor of Traverse City runs through the end of this year, he will retain that position, and Elk Rapids Village Council agreed to change their meeting dates from Monday night to Tuesday night to accommodate Lewis’ schedule.

Traverse City Commission meets every Monday night.

Council members also agreed in a 5-1 vote to hire a consulting firm, Human Resource Partners, at approximately $100 an hour, to conduct a review of village hiring issues and then offer recommendations.

“We have an organization where we really haven’t supported the staff, in terms of making sure the person is qualified for the job they come into and making sure the job they come into is the job that’s on the job description,” said Council President Karen Simpson.

“When things change,” she added, “there has to be more and better training.”

Council member Barb Mullaly cast the lone “no” vote.

The village is in the midst of setting a new annual budget, council members discussed hiring a new treasurer, Mullaly asked Davis if she would be willing to stay until the budget is completed and Davis agreed.

Residents during public comment at the Jan 17 regular meeting and at Wednesday’s special meeting, urged the council to make public the full cost of the payroll error, including attorney’s fees, consultant fees and other expenses.

Howard, in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request filed by the Record-Eagle, provided a statement which showed his firm, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, billed the village $12,897 for the “payroll overpayment matter” investigation.

Additional costs include approximately $12,000 to hire Lewis as interim manager, the $17,000 MML contract for a search to replace Gruesbeck, and costs incurred when advertising for replacements for Szczypka and Davis.

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