The long city manager search may be over.
Rob Hilliard, a longtime city manager in Allegan, Mich., has been offered the job in Oberlin. City council members on Thursday unanimously voted to negotiate a contract with Hilliard.
He was selected over finalists Paul Brake, former Grand Blanc, Mich., city manager, and J. Tyson Ross, former Dalton, Ga., city manager.
Council president Ron Rimbert said Hilliard will be offered approximately $120,000 annually. If he accepts, council could vote on the contract as early as its Nov. 7 meeting.
“I know how to manage a city. I know the ins and outs of a city, but my ultimate tool is collaboration,” Hilliard told about 50 people at a candidates’ reception at the Oberlin Public Library prior to council’s decision. “I’m intellectually curious and I love seeking out people’s feelings. That’s how we learn.”
Hilliard, a 51-year-old husband and father of two grown sons, was raised in Portage in southwest Michigan. After graduating with a degree in public administration from Western Michigan University in 1988, Hilliard took a job the same year as an Allegan building official.
Allegan, population 5,000, is in southwest Michigan about 100 miles north of Chicago. It is about 265 miles northwest of Oberlin.
Allegan has an approximately $4 million general fund budget and 35 full-time employees. Oberlin’s general fund is $9.4 million and it has 110 full-time employees.
Hilliard left Allegan in 1990 but returned to became assistant city manager and became city manager in 1995. He left in 2000 to become Yellow Springs city manager before returning to Allegan as city manager in 2005. He resigned in July.
“It was just time for a change,” Hilliard said in an interview. “They wanted to go in a different direction.”
Allegan mayor Nancy Ingalsbee, who said she has known Hilliard since about 2006, said the departure was amicable. She attributed it to changes on Allegan’s city council and Hilliard having done the job for a long time.
Ingalsbee said a major accomplishment of Hilliard’s was convincing residents to approve the city spending $500,000 earned from sale of a dam to a private company. The money was spent on riverfront renovation, which is ongoing. The local money was used for a matching $500,000 grant leading to construction of an amphitheater and kayak launch.
“It’s just a major project,” Ingalsbee said. “It’s starting to turn around the downtown that was pretty devastated in the (Great Recession).”
Ingalsbee also said Hilliard also showed foresight in applying for a $3 million dollar federal taxpayer grant from the Economic Development Administration for a $9 million water treatment plant before grant money dried up due to the recession. She said some neighboring communities now are unable to obtain grant money for their aging plants.
Ingalsbee, who took office this year, took office as a city councilwoman in 2011. She said Hilliard encouraged her to run. If Hilliard is hired, Ingalsbee said Oberlin will benefit from his enthusiasm and work ethic.
“One of his biggest problems is that he just wants to get involved with everything,” she said. “I swear he didn’t sleep. He worked day and night. Any event that went on, Rob was always there.”
Hilliard said Oberlin’s environmentalism and liberalism inspired him to apply. He said working with Antioch College while in Yellow Springs will help him deal with Oberlin College if hired.
Hilliard, who earned about $95,000 annually in Allegan, said he will bring 28 years of municipal experience and a “passion for making a difference” to Oberlin. He said he was honored to be selected.
Hilliard wasn’t one of the five candidates council planned to interview this week.
He was added to the list after a couple of candidates dropped out after being hired elsewhere, said recruiter Heidi Voorhees, president of GovHR USA, the Chicago-area company running the search.
Oberlin has lacked a regular city manager since Eric Norenberg took the city manager job in Milford, Del., in December. Norenberg, hired in 2007, earned $115,762 annually. He left less than a year after being asked to resign in a letter signed by a majority of council members.
Finance director Sal Talarico has been interim city manager since January. The search began in May and stalled in August when a bitterly divided council couldn’t decide between Talarico and Lowell Crow, city administrator in Monmouth, Ill.
Council members met with finalists behind closed doors twice this week. They said they were confident they’d made the right choice.
“It’s been difficult these last few months,” councilman Scott Broadwell said. “We took a bit of heat from some people, but we didn’t rush into things and here we are.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Rob Hilliard, former city manager of Allegan, Mich., is expected to become Oberlin’s new city manager.