Choosing the Next City Manager: A New England Administrator Comes to Michigan
As part of our four-part series on the candidates vying to be Birmingham's next city manager, we talked to Larry Shaffer, former city manager for Amherst, MA.
Larry Shaffer is looking for something new in the Midwest.
The former city manager of Amherst, MA, is one of the final four candidates vying to be Birmingham's next city manager. Shaffer, 62, brings not only 34 years of experience in the public sector, he also understands many of the issues facing the community.
Shaffer hopes to take over for outgoing City Manager Tom Markus, who is transitioning into the city manager position in Iowa City, IA (Interim City Manager Joe Valentine is currently acting as Birmingham city manager).
The other three candidates are Gary Boden, former city administrator of Clinton, IA; Kevin Welch, city manager of Tecumseh, MI; and Bob Bruner, Ferndale city manager. The Birmingham City Commission announced the finalists at its Nov. 22 meeting.
Shaffer said Birmingham clearly faces challenges in the upcoming year, including untangling water and sewer costs, moving forward on development at the rail station and preserving its downtown. It's up to elected officials and residents to choose which issues to take up, he said.
"Part of my job is to help the community figure out what it wants," Shaffer said.
Shaffer attended college at the State University of New York (SUNY), first in Oneonta for his undergraduate degree in social studies education, then at the University at Albany for his master's of public administration.
After he graduated, Shaffer landed his first job with the city of Oneonta as a groundskeeper. "I learned what it's like to work for a city, (and it) demonstrates that I came up through the ranks," Shaffer said.
He later worked as a housing rehabilitation specialist in the Office of Community Development and then as the city tax assessor.
In total, Shaffer spent 10 years in Oneonta. "I really learned the groundwork of public services," he said.
In 1986, Shaffer was named city assessor in Keene, NH, a picturesque city of 21,000. After five years there, he was promoted to assistant city manager; in that position, he oversaw 110 employees, as well as the police and fire departments, the recreation office and library.
After 10 years in Keene, Shaffer accepted a position as town administrator for Durham, NH, where he worked to restore a historic inn — a "hallmark project" that he said illustrates his dedication to historic preservation.
He also worked to make Durham part of the Main Street program, a national trust for historic preservation that provides support for historic downtown districts.
"Downtowns don't inherently survive … you have to be proactive," Shaffer said. "And all of us working together provide a much stronger environment than us working separately."
In 1999, Shaffer was hired as the town administrator of Vernon, CT, a city of 29,000 near Hartford. In Vernon, he worked on several economic projects, including the preservation of the historic Amerbelle Textile Mill. In 2006, he moved to Amherst, MA, the home of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College.
In Amherst, Shaffer began dating a woman who later was offered a position as associate professor at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Traveling between New England and the Midwest every few weeks wouldn't work, so he immediately began searching for jobs in Michigan.
He applied in August for city manager positions in Birmingham and in Essexville, MI. At the end of September, he retired from Amherst. Now he's looking forward to Michigan living.
"We both love Michigan," said Shaffer, a big fan of snowshoeing. "The natural environment in Michigan is just fantastic."
The City Commission will begin the interview process Dec. 10 with a tour of the city, presentations by the candidates and a reception that evening for finalists, commissioners and the public.
On Dec. 11, the commission will hold public interviews beginning at 8:30 a.m. and then go into executive session for deliberation at 3 p.m. Should follow-up interviews be needed, the commission will meet again Dec. 12. All public presentations and interviews will take place in the City Commission room in the Birmingham Municipal Building.