Candidate Palenick ‘successful’ despite tough obstacles
Jim Palenick’s job wasn’t easy in Bay City, Mich., and his firing last year proves it. Still, some leaders there say the city manager made things happen in a town where unions rule and change was not altogether welcome.
They say many people supported Palenick’s ideas and passion for transforming the historic, working town along the Saginaw River into a more vibrant community.
However, strained relationships with powerful city unions prompted an effort to oust Palenick from his post. In August, seven of nine city commissioners, many of whom had been recently elected with union support, voted at a public meeting to fire him.
“It was an incredibly difficult environment,” said Shirley Roberts, executive director of the Bay Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Despite incredibly difficult obstacles, he was able to accomplish a great deal.”
Carson City staff and members of the community recently felt the same way after interviewing Palenick, 43, last month. He was selected as top choice after being asked several questions about his experience and knowledge of city business.
Bay City Commissioner Mike Buda, a leader in the effort to fire Palenick, said disputes with unions led to his dismissal.
“I would say Mr. Palenick just couldn’t seem to get along with a lot of the unions in town,” Buda said. “He was kind of ‘my way or the highway.'”
Carson City Supervisor Robin Williamson and Mayor Ray Masayko said they were aware of Palenick’s termination in Bay City and are keeping an open mind.
Palenick will be interviewed by the Board of Supervisors along with Linda Ritter of Elko and David Fraser of Beloit, Kan., beginning at 1 p.m. April 17. The fourth candidate, Brian Williams, of Carson City, has withdrawn from the process.
Palenick’s firing has severely divided Bay City since, said Commissioner Kurt Legner. It also sparked a community effort that resulted in one commissioner being recalled.
Even so, Buda said, Palenick was able to get things done.
“Getting projects going …. he’s great with that,” Buda said.
Bay City, with nearly 37,000 residents, is bisected by the Saginaw River, which carries lake-going freighters from larger Michigan cities that regularly deposit limestone, fertilizer and other loads in Bay City.
Many years ago, the city’s historic streets were filled with lumber barons and ship builders who constructed hundreds of mansions along Center Avenue.
Today, the city serves as the county seat and is mostly a working-class community, Palenick said.
Palenick was hired in 1996 by a “reform-minded commission” who wanted him to bring professionalism to the city organization, he said.
During his time with the city, he accomplished two notable projects. Palenick participated in locating a $35 million hotel and convention center along the riverfront. The center has since become the focal point of the community and something it wanted for 12 years, he said.
“He took the bull by the horns and got it done,” Legner said.
Palenick was also successful in negotiating with a local industrial company, which owned and operated on 45 acres of riverfront property, to move so the prime location was available for redevelopment. The city can now turn the site into restaurants, housing, and marina and connect it to a riverwalk.
The city was able to raise nearly $60 million to finance the riverwalk and parks, residential condominiums, the hotel and conference center and the comprehensive cleanup and relocation of the aggregate storage yard, Palenick said.
“I work very well in a climate that values and encourages good quality development, change and well-managed growth,” Palenick said. “I have a great deal of accomplishments in economic development and redevelopment.”
His supporters describe him as “very capable, talented, gifted, forward-thinking and a visionary.”
Carson City is “very appealing and very exciting to me,” Palenick said. “I think it’s a very attractive city and has a lot to offer.”
Before Bay City, Palenick managed two other Michigan communities, Dowagiac and Dexter. In Dowagiac, he participated in redeveloping the downtown historic business district and rail corridor, planned for and financed a new city hall and police station and “turned around a struggling police department,” he said.
In Dexter, he helped turn a corn field into an industrial area with 11 manufacturing firms.
Palenick holds a master’s degree in public administration from Western Michigan University and a bachelor of science degree in public administration and economics.
Palenick’s last paid salary was $92,970 per year with additional benefits, such as a $7,800 per year automotive allowance. Before being fired, he received five positive yearly performance evaluations and compensation increases.
IF YOU GO
What: Carson City Board of Supervisors city manager selection
When: 1 p.m. April 17
Where: Sierra Room, Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St.