MI: Erik Tungate, City of Oak Park

Posted on February 11, 2015

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Fifty Nifty Takeaways

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from others’ mistakes than yours.

P.S:  Contribute to the Fifty Nifty project by sending those names in your lil’ black book to ELGL.

Our Take on Michigan


The mere mention of local government in Michigan generates discussion about the financial crisis in Detroit, and the impact on surrounding cities. (Pontiac was the latest city to land in the crosshairs of the New York Times.)

ELGL has launched an effort to increase our presence in the state. Here’s some information on that effort: Pure Michigan: ELGL Launches in the Mitten StateThe Assistant: Victor Cardenas, Novi, MIMI: Hayley Roberts, Michigan Suburbs Alliance and 360 Review with Andrew Opalewski, City of Troy, MI.

With that understanding, the Fifty Nifty returns to interview Erik Tungate, Oak Park, MI city manager. Before we talk with Erik, here’s a quicker primer on the Mitten State.

Michigan is the ninth most populous and 11th most extensive total area. Its capital is Lansing, and the largest city is Detroit. Michigan’s personal income tax is set to a flat rate of 4.25%. In addition, 22 cities impose income taxes; rates are set at 1% for residents and 0.5% for non-residents in all but four cities. Michigan’s state sales tax is 6%, though items such as food and medication are exempted from sales tax. Property taxes are assessed on the local level, but every property owner’s local assessment contributes to the statutory State Education Tax.

Here’s a look at some of the “interesting” laws enacted by other Michigan cities.tumblr_mu1u0l1P5x1s2yegdo1_400

Clawson: There is a law that makes it legal for a farmer to sleep with his pigs, cows, horses, goats, and chickens.

Detroit: Putt-putt golf courses must close by 1:00 AM.

Grand Haven: No person shall throw an abandoned hoop skirt into any street or on any sidewalk, under penalty of a five- dollar fine for each offense.

Soo: Smoking while in bed is illegal.

Wayland: Anyone can keep their cow on Main Street downtown at a cost of 3 cents per day.

Background Check

Erik Tungate (LinkedIn and Twitter) currently serves as the City Manager (Chief Executive) of the City of Oak Park. Oak Park is an inner-ring Detroit suburb with approximately 30,000 residents.

Prior to becoming a City Manager, he was employed in various community & economic development capacities including as a National Business Attraction Senior Manager at the state level at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). In this role, Erik was credited with packaging complex investment packages for national business relocation prospects across the state of Michigan. Before his career in community & economic development, he worked in the financial services sector as a Senior Financial/Credit Analyst.

Mr. Tungate is a graduate of Western Michigan University (Bachelors, 1999) and Wayne State University (M.B.A., 2001). He has certifications in community and economic development and from the International Public Management Association (IPMA) in human resources. He is also credentialed by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice you received from your parents:

To work hard and do at least one thing really well.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?

President of the United States.

Before I die I want to… Serve in a higher office and travel the world.

Three most influential books in your life.

  • Leaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanMark-Twain-Huckleberry-Finn-quote
  • Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

Jesus Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln and George Washington

Describe the inside of your car.

It’s neat with remnants of kid’s toys and paperwork from work along with two car seats for my two girls

What’s the meaning of life?

To live a full and meaningful existence by adding value to the overall forward progress of civilization.

Q & A


Three bullet points that best describe local government in your state:

  • Fiscally sound due to corrections made as a result of the recession.
  • Effective and empowered local leaders.
  • Economic development focused.

We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?

My dream job as a 12 year old was to be working in government or politics. My first job was as a local economic development director in Hamtramck, MI. I ended up in government because, after three years in corporate banking, I realized I truly wanted to make a difference in the world.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Bringing hundreds of new jobs to downtown Detroit during the recession,
  • saving the City of Oak Park from financial meltdown, and
  • bringing a sense of stability to all of the positions I have held.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

My biggest mistake was not sticking around in a job or two along the way. I’ve learned it be more patient and stay during difficult circumstances.

tumblr_lqersu8uAl1qhqxuso1_r1_1280Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor.” Has this been your experience?

Yes it has and I truly believe it’s because I’ve spent most of my career either working in the City of Detroit or right outside of it. Detroit is a strong mayor form of government and because of its enormity, it sets the tone for everything else.

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

It’s all about communication both improving existing lines and forging ahead with new ones.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Yes, the rewards are extraordinary. Being able to directly affect a person’s life is extremely fulfilling.

Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.


Be organized, prepared and answer the questions directly.

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

In 2018, local government will be… Fiscally sound and implementing state of the art changes in how we deliver public services.

What question(s) should we have asked you? What is your favorite city? Answer: Detroit

Supplemental Reading

Link: 50 Nifty Archives

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