Community Interests

From Growth to a City in Turmoil, City Manager, Mike Dornan, Retires

After 22 years of service to the City Of Wixom, City Manager, Mike Dornan has decided to retire! Or has he? I do not know if the City Council has accepted his retirement, but his retirement is scheduled for November 18, 2012, after the millage vote.

I distinctly remember the interview that preceded the hiring of Mike Dornan as the City Manager. I too remember his first days on the job as City Manager. It was an exciting time for Wixom. The City had entered a growth period and there was much to do. Fortunately, we also had a large constituency of volunteers working very hard for the community. Boards and Commissions were working to review, rewrite and adopt new ordinances. The Planning Commission was knee-deep in reviewing developer’s plans and the Master Planning of the City continued at a furious pace.

Preceding Mike’s arrival, Mayor Spencer had formed a Wage and Salary Committee to develop and rank every position in the City. There was a ranking and rating system developed for departmental staffing of personnel based upon competitive rates and liabilities for those positions within our area and Michigan. Council was busy!

Recognizing the growth situation, a further development of the Budget Stabilization Fund was made, promoted and discussed by the Council for the City’s economic stability. Council pursued Budget Stabilization efforts and its adoption and the deed was done. Revenue and expenditures overview for a multitude of years was the foundation for economic development and delivery of services to a growing community was now possible.

These early years were also contentious times. There were serious discussions about the Administration and the deficiencies at the City Hall facility. The Library area was too small and inefficient; the Police Department had not enough space or equipment. To make matters more complex, the Police Department had hired a female officer. The female officer dressed for duty in a hallway, closet or wherever privacy was available. Furthermore, internal departments’ staffing was an issue, as all departments’ required additional help.

There was not enough space to operate the City Clerk’s office, the Finance Department, Building Department, or the Assessor’s office where tax records were all but readable. Something had to be done.

Therefore, the initiation of building the City Hall Complex came forth as a resolve to satisfy the Administrative service needs of the growing community. The development of the City Hall complex with Administrative offices and Police Department were designed; across the “Pond” were the Library, Senior Center and Community Center. This proposed development of Administrative Offices and facilities set off a firestorm within the community.

Confrontation and debate about the development became heated. Resident, Mike McDonald, nearly defeated the development through his political efforts. Needless to say, the facility narrowly passed by voter approval and built. Noteworthy, is the fact that when Mike McDonald became Councilman and then Mayor, he did all that he could do to continue the progress of the community’s services and maintaining the complex.

And talk about contention and discord! Who can forget the turmoil about the drive for economic development for Wixom created by Mayor, Lillian Spencer’s idea of expanding the Wixom-Spencer Airport! Talk about kicking a hornet’s nest! The contention and conflict levels were as high as I had ever witnessed.

The discussions were difficult and sometimes heated. But every statement made by residents or the surrounding Townships’ representatives were about the facts, lack of facts, or various threats relative to the functioning operations of the airport.

Even during these many meetings and receiving citizens’ opinions of discourse, there was no vicious name-calling, or personal attacks between residents or council representatives. There was an ability to disagree without becoming spiteful, hateful, or spewing forth vicious-venomous verbal attacks upon residents or neighbors within those debates because of a difference of opinions.

Obviously, the Airport never got off the ground, and today, Lyon Oaks Parks and the once proposed airport area is a very nice industrial park and a fine component of the City. The Great Blue Heron Rookery still exists which was an environmental concern within the Airport study.

What this contentious period did change was our City Government. The Council and the Community moved from a Strong Mayor form of Government to a City Manager form of Government. Thus, the need was created for a City Manager.

Previously, Bill Barlow departed the Administration. With the adoption of the City Manager form of Government, Mr. Mike Dornan, a new City Manager entered the beginning of his 22-year career.

Mr. Dornan worked for the City during these many years of economic growth: in a best of times, and in many ways, the most complex times for the City. The community grew during those strong growth years: decisions were made, and risks were taken. Water was also an issue during these years. The contentiousness and the attempt to transform the area for the betterment of the City was the Council’s first priority. Thankfully, there were the many volunteers that supported all the work that was completed at the time.

How times have changed!

Now Wixom’s Administration and Council must move forward with the understanding that the times and the economics of the city have changed from those early growth years to a slower, more deliberate economy with little or no growth based upon uncertainties of employment and economic forecasts.

There are fewer employment potentials and those potentials that are available require a higher level of education. Most jobs available are modest in pay scales and benefits rarely exist.

It is again a time of contentiousness, but with understanding and knowledge of the community and its limited resources, times are again changing; residents and the Administration have to understand that change is the only constant in any community and the challenge is to do what is possible with what is available.

The City’s Administration cannot spend its way out of debt.

The longer the wait to make changes, the greater the debt becomes; ultimately the greater the impact to City’s employees and the delivery of services to residents will be. Concern for the Public’s safety increases exponentially the longer the delay by Council to make the necessary changes and reorganizations that are required.

The 3.5 millage request is not going to bring the budget under control and the Council and the Administration recognizes it!

Nevertheless, Mr. Dornan has earned his retirement, and we should wish him well, good health, and the best of success as he enters his retirement years.

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