Traverse City commissioners are expected to officially name Jered Ottenwess, the current 34-year-old city manager of Ishpeming, as the new city manager of Traverse City at their 7 p.m. meeting tonight.
Ottenwess, who will replace retiring city manager Ben Bifoss, has a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan and has served eight years in city managerial positions, both in Trenton, Fla., and in Michigan. Following his early May interview, commissioners remarked on the candidate's youth but were consistently impressed with his level of knowledge and enthusiasm, with Commissioner Jim Carruthers calling Ottenwess his “number one pick” for the position.
Following the commission's vote tonight – which will authorize a contract for a $100,000 annual salary ($110,000 after two years of satisfactory performance) – Ottenwess is expected to take office in late July or early August, providing 60 days' notice to Ishpeming. The Ticker spoke with Ottenwess about his new position and what he considers his top priorities coming into Traverse City.
The Ticker: Congratulations on your new position. What was your impression of how the interview process went?
Jered Ottenwess: I watched quite a few commission meetings in preparation for the interview. I really like the way this particular commission operates. I was excited to meet them. I tend to...listen more than I speak, and I'm deliberate, and I think that's one thing the commissioners saw from me in the interview.
The Ticker: Your age has come up on a few different occasions. Has that been a liability or an asset for you?
Jered Ottenwess: I try to have a positive attitude, so I always think of it as an asset. But I've had to deal with issues because of it. I was appointed to my first position when I was 26. It can be difficult when you're working with department heads older than you, older than even your parents. There is a human tendency to struggle against that. But I've dealt with it, and most of the time I don't feel the need to even address it.
The Ticker: Commissioners remarked upon your level of preparation and the research you'd done on Traverse City. What are some of the key priorities or issues you've identified coming into this position?
Jered Ottenwess: The first several months of the job are hectic and involve a lot of getting to know people. I'll be meeting with commissioners, doing research and getting up to speed. Those will be my top priorities coming in. In terms of issues, there's been a lot of discussion about pension benefits and personnel costs in Traverse City, which is one of the most important long-term issues facing local governments. There's also the capital improvement issue and finding a way to fund street improvements. There's no funding designated specifically for road improvements, so tackling that will be an important challenge.
The Ticker: How would you describe your managerial style?
Jered Ottenwess: I'm a soft-spoken person. The most important aspect of this position is being able to work with people and build relationships. I put a high priority on that. You also have to know the technical aspects of the job. You have to know the details.
The Ticker: Tell us about a tough challenge you faced over the last eight years and how you resolved it.
Jered Ottenwess: In Trenton, we had a well-publicized personnel issue with our police chief. I had to fire him, and it resulted in litigation with the city. Issues like that tend to gain a lot of public attention, which can be a huge distraction to the city. My goal in situations like that is to keep the city and council focused on the important issues and not get caught up in the storm. With the issues most cities are facing, including Traverse City – increasing union costs, decreasing revenue, public improvement projects, DDA issues – staying focused and getting everyone else to stay focused is crucial.
The Ticker: What are you looking forward to most about working and living in Traverse City?
Jered Ottenwess: My family loves living up north. We love the winter, and we love being in an area that has a slower pace of life. With Traverse City, you also have great urban amenities on top of that. Important to us is that we'll be closer to our family and to downstate, which helps with our son (Ottenwess is married with two children, one of whom has special needs). I'm excited, yes...but honestly my whole family is thrilled about coming to Traverse City.