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.
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 is excited the current initiative to increase its presence in Michigan. Here’s some information on that effort: Pure Michigan: ELGL Launches in the Mitten State, The Assistant: Victor Cardenas, Novi, MI, and 360 Review with Andrew Opalewski, City of Troy, MI.
With that understanding, the Fifty Nifty returns to Michigan with the hopes of finding a city that defines the popular “Pure Michigan” videos. We landed in Sparta, MI to hear from Julius Suchy. Julius was recommended by Alan Mond, MuniRent and Nathan Mehmed, Community Planner at Williams & Works.
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.
Before we learn more about Julius, we must first take a look at some of the “interesting” laws enacted by other Michigan cities.
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 on Julius
Julius Suchy (LinkedIn) was appointed Village of Sparta Village Manager in June 2014. Previously, he served as Village Manager in Dundee, MI from 2011 to 2014. In Dundee, he was responsible for a $2.1 million general fund budget and $10 million dollar overall budget to fund administrative services, public safety, public works, streets/roads/pathways and water and sewer operations. Julius’ first local government job was Village of Spring Lake Project Intern.
Julius received an undergraduate degree and an MPA from Grand Valley State University.
Background Check on Village of Sparta
Sparta has a population of 4,140 and is in Kent County. The village was settled in 1846 by Jonathan Nash who originally named the area Nashville.
Sparta has two museums in operation today reflecting on the history of the establishment of Sparta with the Myers Schoolhouse Museum and the T.S. & M Railroad Depot. Village Hall is one of the most historic buildings in the Village of Sparta.
Best advice from your parents:
It really wasn’t advice, but my father instilled a great work ethic in me from an early age. My family emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the early 80’s and he had to work hard for everything he did coming from a different culture and learning a new language. When I am in the office late I always think about what my dad had to go through to give me the opportunity to be in this position.
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?
The opening band would be the Beatles, Eminem would hit the stage next and Journey would close out the night with Faithfully, Wheel in the Sky, Anyway You Want It and the encore would be Don’t Stop Believing. I have an eclectic taste in music!
Before I die I want to…. Be a good friend, husband and father and hopefully make a difference in each of the communities I serve.
- Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership (Author – John U. Bacon)
- Servant – A Simple Story About The True Essence Of Leadership (Author – James C. Hunter)
- 90 Minutes in Heaven (Author – Don Piper & Cecil Murphey)
If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive, not including family members), who would be on the list?
- Jesus – This is an obvious one… so many questions.
- Bo Schembechler – I would ask him how he would fix Michigan football.
- Babe Ruth – I would love to pick his brain about what he thinks about today’s baseball and what he thinks of the “steroid era of baseball”.
- My grandfather – he passed away when I was around 6 years old.
- George Washington – I would be interested to hear what he thinks of America and how it has grown since he was president.
The front of the car is clean except for the occasional Mountain Dew bottle but the back seat has a car seat base for my daughter Leah (10 months old) and a collection of baby related items. Also, I have a scraper on the floor, it is Michigan so you never know when you will need it!
What’s the meaning of life?
If I knew that one I think I would be a pretty popular person!
Q & A with Julius
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.
- Partisan Politics in the Legislature
- Unfunded Mandates from the State
- Professional Local Government Managers
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?
When I was a kid I wanted to become a police officer, but I think that is every 12 year old boy’s dream job. My first local government job was as an intern for the Village of Spring Lake. My undergraduate Organizational Theory class was taught by Spring Lake Village Manager Ryan Cotton. In his class he related a lot of the material to local government which got me interested. I ended up volunteering to assist with their Master Plan and eventually received an internship, the rest is history. I have also always enjoyed playing Sim City (City Simulation Game) so it seems fitting that I would make this my profession.
- Becoming a city manager at the age of 24
- Organized “Chill on the Hill” event in Vassar, MI that required closing state trunk line and dumping over 75 loads of snow to create sledding hill approximately 1,000 feet long into the downtown. The event was a success and the community received a community excellence award from the Michigan Municipal League.
- While serving as Village Manager of Dundee, MI the community had the 2nd worst flood in its history. Village staff was amazing and citizens came together to fill sandbags and distribute them throughout the impacted area. It was refreshing to see so many people giving back to help out their neighbors. The flooding was localized and impacted a large portion of the community but the damage was mitigated through this community effort.
Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from?
- Early in my career I was eager to continue my career climb and I ended up leaving a good organization that I was very happy with to an organization that I was not a great fit for. I learned that I was not a good fit for the culture over time, despite my attempts to change the culture and ultimately ended up leaving and took a better position closer to family. This experience taught me a valuable lesson about leaving a position you are happy with.
- If you have an issue with specific council members or the mayor/president micromanaging it is important to make those issues known to the entire council. It is very difficult to bring this issue up if it has been going on for a number of months when an issue arises that puts you in a bad light. It is best to have the rest of council work with you to make sure all council members are working in their role so you can work in your role as a manager.
Many people think we are “planner” or “mayor”, has this been your experience?
I have had numerous people ask me if I am the mayor of each of the communities I have served. I use this as an opportunity to educate them on what my role is as the manager and let them know what role the Mayor/President and council play. Although in smaller communities the manager can also wear the hat as Planner/Zoning Administrator so they aren’t completely wrong.
How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?
Unfortunately the majority of interactions that the public has with local government is negative (police, water/sewer shutoff, blight ticket, etc.) Due to this it is extremely important to have great communication with citizens when it is not related to a negative incident. If it is related to a negative incident it is important to be as courteous as possible, the citizen won’t be happy with the outcome but they may at least feel they were treated properly. Communities can be proactive through social media and their website to communicate a positive message.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?
Yes, I definitely would recommend a career in local government to anyone I know. Although it can be a frustrating career, it can be extremely rewarding when you see positive change in a community during your tenure as manager. More often than not working in local government is a thankless job, however when a plan is implemented and the community benefits as a whole it is a great feeling.
Three steps someone can take to make a good impression during an interview?
- Make eye contact
- Know what position entails, it is surprising how many times I will interview someone who has clearly not read the job description.
- Be honest, if you don’t know have an answer to the question tell me how you might find the answer. I don’t expect everyone to have perfect answers for questions regarding an organization the interviewee has not been a part of.
Name three of your mentors.
- Craig Bessinger, City Manager – Ferrysburg, MI
- Steve Sobers, City Manager – Big Rapids, MI
In 2018, local government will be…
- More transparent due to advances in information technology
- Hopefully in Michigan it will be better funded. I can dream right?
What question(s) should we have asked you?
Not sure, I guess that means this was the toughest question.
- Suchy Takes Over as Sparta Village Manager
- On Point – Archives | icma.org
- City manager gets early contract extension by Vassar City Council
- Dundee begins work on new master plan
- He’s just 24 and ready to lead
50 Nifty Archives
- TX: Scott Sellers, Kilgore City Manager
- NC: Tom Bonfield, City of Durham City Manager
- WA: Tracy Burrows, MRSC Executive Director
- IN: Nate Nickel, Bloomington Senior Long Range Planner
- IN: Nathan George, Town of Fishers, Deputy Town Manager
- OH: GARY HUFF, CITY OF PIQUA, CITY MANAGER
- VA: Kim Payne, City of Lynchburg, City Manager
- NC: Tom Lundy, Catawba County, County Manager
- RI: Rich Kerbel, Town of North Kingstown, Former Town Manager
- KS: Jason Gage, City of Salina, City Manager
- KS: Michael Wilkes, City of Olathe, City Manager
- VA: Chris Morrill, City of Roanoke, City Manager
- MS: Parker Wiseman, City of Starkville, Mayor
- OH: Jim Lenner, Village of Johnstown, Village Manager
- SD: Robert W. Wilson, Minnehaha County, Assistant Commission Administrative Officer
- IL: Greg Stopka, Alliance for Innovation
- WI: Kevin Lahner, City of Burlington, City Administrator
- MO: Andy Morris, City of Moberly, City Manager
- WI: Andy Pederson, Village of Bayside, Village Manager
- AL: Sam Gaston, City of Mountain Brook, City Manager
- CO: Robb Kolstad, Management and Budget Director, City of Thornton
- OK: Larry Stevens, City of Edmond, City Manager
- FL: Lee Feldman, City of Fort Lauderdale, City Manager
- GA: Peggy Merriss, City of Decatur, City Manager
- MO: Jennifer Gray, City of Des Peres, Assistant City Administrator
- NE: Larry Burks, City of Bellevue, Assistant City Administrator
- TX: Amy Buckert, City of Balcones Heights, City Administrator
- NC: Eric Peterson, Town of Hillsborough, Town Manager
- MD: Laura Allen, Town of Berlin, Town Administrator
- IL: Randy Recklaus, Village of Clarendon Hills, Village Manager
- NC: Mitchell Silver, City of Raleigh and American Planning Association
- IL: Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, Social Media and Communications
- KY: Laura Milam Ross, Kentucky League of Cities
- AZ: Gabriel L. Engeland, Town of Gilbert, Assistant to the Town Manager
- SD: Sean Pederson, City of Canton, City Manager
- MI: Clay Pearson, City of Novi, City Manager
- WA/UT: Jon Amundson, City of Richland, WA and City of Orem, UT
- CA, FL, OR: Douglas Ayres, Former City Manager of Inglewood (CA), Melbourne (FL), and Salem (OR)
- California: Brian Angus, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, Chief Executive Officer
- Washington/California: Julie Underwood, Shoreline City Manager
- NY: Jay Gsell, Genesee County, County Manager
- SC: Katherine Hendricks, City of Pickens Administrator
- CO: Tim Gagen, Breckenridge Town Manager
- UT: Rick Davis, West Jordan City Manager
- WA: Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City Manager and WCMA President
- IA: Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City, Assistant to the City Manager
- CT: Roger Kemp, Former City Manager and Current President, Kemp Consulting
- AR: Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator