Archived Story

Csokasy interested in Proctor’s position

Published 10:38am Friday, February 5, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Cass County’s search for its third administrator took a surprising turn Thursday night – one that shocked even some commissioners.

Road Commission Manager Louis Csokasy, who came to county attention when he and Chairman LeRoy Krempec expanded the panel from three to five members in 2008, expressed interest in succeeding Administrator/Controller Terry Proctor next month, perhaps even in some sort of shared power arrangement where he would continue to manage the Road Commission.

Csokasy became Road Commission manager last March for a $72,000 salary.

It was apparent as the discussion evolved that the search process, which began with a Saturday morning meeting Jan. 9, was progressing more rapidly than their comfort level.
The Feb. 4 committee meeting Chairman David Taylor called for after the commission’s meeting was announced in a two-line e-mail Thursday afternoon.

No sooner had Taylor, D-Edwardsburg, summarized his cost findings of interviewing three executive search firms than he mentioned an additional possibility of retaining Bill Baldridge of North Muskegon in a dual role of interim administrator and search coordinator, as he did for Dowagiac in 2008 leading to the hiring of City Manager Kevin Anderson.

But before his colleagues could process that development, Taylor switched gears again and turned his focus to an “internal candidate,” Csokasy, and began discussing suspending the search and negotiating a salary in the $100,000 range.

“We’re not really merging the Road Commission with the county commission?” questioned Commissioner E. Clark Cobb, D-Dowagiac.

“We don’t know how far we can go,” Taylor replied. “We need legal guidance in that regard. Maybe we can’t do it, and if we can’t, we’ve got one manager for two jobs. If this doesn’t work, the first person who would tell us is Louie.”

“The state mandates that you have a Road Commission,” Cobb said. “To combine it, we’d have to become a charter county.”
“This quasi relationship with the Road Commission,” Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, said, “is it not fair or appropriate to see it standing alone? Are we saying the only way we’ll consider Louie is him doing both jobs? I look at Louie’s resume and I think it’s unique that we have a person in our community who has such great management skills. We know what he’s done with the Road Commission in such a relatively short time and he’s developed positive relationships with the townships. And if we go ahead and spend the money on a recruiting firm, we don’t know what we’re going to get. I’d like to see the issue of combining with the Road Commission separate. Personally, I’d like to look at Louie as the county administrator.”

“Louie says he can do both jobs,” Taylor said.

Francis responded, “I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity of pursuing Louie if the Road Commission issue doesn’t fly for one reason or another.”

“I had a 28-year career in the automotive area,” Csokasy has said. “I call it my first career. I started off as a design engineer and finished up as president of the automotive group – a $700 million business with 4,000 employees working under me at eight manufacturing sites on four continents. After retiring from that, I started a second career with a private equity group out of Indianapolis.”

In that capacity he served as president and CEO of two smaller ($20 million to $30 million) companies.

Commissioner Bill Steele, D-Calvin Township, said, “My understanding is that this county voted to split the county Road Commission from us years ago. I think that’s going to be a major barrier. I would definitely like to see the attorney review that. We should address that first, to see if it’s possible. I like Louie personally.”

“Then we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Taylor said, “but we’d still have one manager.”
“Nobody’s done anything on this but the (committee) chairman,” Commissioner Carl Higley Sr., R-Ontwa Township, said. “For him to make a recommendation at this time, we’ve got no knowledge of it.

“Second of all, I cannot see – and I am very well aware of the amount of time Terry spends. No problem with Louie or the job you’re doing, but I personally don’t see how any person could run both and do justice. But definitely, before we vote on this, there should be a full committee meeting and people notified ahead of time. I didn’t know until I sat down tonight we were going to have this meeting. I appreciate what Dave’s done, but we can’t have one person with a committee this size.”
“I would hold off on spending money right now,” commented Commissioner Charlie Arnold, R-Cassopolis. “Let’s not jump into that right away. If we need to meet with Louie on another date when all the aforementioned personnel can be here, I think that would be a good idea, to have an interview at that time.”

Commissioners, who earlier in the evening canceled their Feb. 27 Billieville retreat, called a special meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, so they can regroup, pin down legal ramifications of such a move and offer Csokasy a chance to make a formal presentation to commissioners and other elected officials.

As Commissioner Debbie Johnson, D-Niles, pointed out, Taylor tossed together three distinct issues which deserve individual consideration.

First, whether or not to hire a company to recruit candidates for the county. Put that on hold, she said.

Second, to look at Csokasy “and see if we’re interested in putting him through an interview.”

Third, the Road Commission.

“There has been another development. We have not quite an internal candidate. Our Road Commission (manager) Louis Csokasy has indicated an interest in the job,” Taylor said, distributing his resume to commissioners.

Reading from an e-mail Taylor received, Csokasy, who was in the audience, was quoted as saying, “We have owned our house on Diamond Lake for over 25 years, our fulltime, year-around residence. In addition, we own and operate a small orchard just down the road which started as a hobby and has grown over the years to now include more than 300 trees.”

On a regular basis, Csokasy teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in business at a university in South Bend, Ind. He and Donna have two daughters who live in other states. “We’ve moved 13 times,” he wrote.

As to why he’s interested in Proctor’s position, “First and foremost, it’s for the challenge of doing a good job in a new and different position. Secondly, I feel that I would bring a different set of skills to the position. These include managerial, organization, development, customer focus and efficiency enhancement. Of course, I have extensive experience in the budgetary process and a good background in labor relations.”

Csokasy added, “I understand the desire of a number of board members to go through the process to see what type of candidates are available. Since I have a strong interest in the welfare of Cass County, I sincerely wish you luck in this task. I think that you can also understand my desire to not become one of a number of possible candidates.”

Taylor said, “Those types of executives (who run multi-national companies) go easily for over $250,000. I’m sure he was earning something in that range or above before he voluntarily took the Road Commission job.

“I am recommending to you that we suspend our search and move into arrangements to retain Louis Csokasy in the range of $100,000, but that we also work toward what we can do to combine the Road Commission more closely with our Board of Commissioners.
“I alerted our counsel, Doug Callander, that this would be coming up. It was mentioned to me that the State of Michigan may even be pushing all county operations in that direction. If we use the nice, round number of $100,000 for the managerial job, we could send $40,000 over to the Road Commission and keep $60,000″ with the administrator’s office in the 1899 courthouse.

“That’s my recommendation,” Taylor said, “and we can’t approve it tonight, but it would go on to the next Board of Commissioners (Feb. 18) for approval. My motion is that we suspend our efforts to seek executive recruitment and work toward offering a position to Louie.”

Francis seconded Taylor’s motion to allow debate.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, seven commissioners decided to spend up to $30,000 to hire a recruitment firm to assist with selecting Proctor’s successor when he departs March 12 after 20 years and to hire an external interim administrator/controller.

One of the executive search firms Taylor consulted in Lansing five years ago participated in the search which resulted in Bill Wolf’s hiring in Berrien County.

It also conducted searches in Calhoun and Ingham counties. Taylor consulted a Berrien County commissioner who was very supportive of the firm and its five-member staff. “He would lead the search himself, rather than delegate it,” Taylor reported. “My primary observation is that he seems to be more hands-on,” including six Cass County visits for $16,000.

Taylor happened to be traveling through Dallas last week, so he contacted a Texas firm with a five-member staff “that appears the opposite. He will only visit three times. If extra visits are desired,” each will cost $1,500.

A Cleveland woman would lead the team and sort out candidates using computer models and profile questionnaires. With the exception of a Florida county, it works primarily in cities. “It’s very national in scale,” Taylor said.

“The fee would be $15,500, plus approximately $7,500 in estimated expenses,” plus any additional travel.

Third, Taylor spoke to a female-headed, four-person firm in Chicago, though an accounting professor at the University of Wisconsin would carry out the search.
He is the author of a local government handbook about evaluating financial conditions. That option would cost $14,500, plus up to $6,300 for expenses and a recruitment brochure – “just a little over $20,000,” Taylor noted.

Baldridge is a fourth option, working for 10 percent of the hire’s annual salary.
“If we’re going to move toward an interim person, I would recommend Mr. Baldridge,” Taylor said.

Baldridge brought 19 years as manager of Royal Oak in the older northern Detroit suburbs and seven years as the first manager of Norton Shores to Dowagiac as part-time interim city manager. In that role, Baldridge conducted the search for Dale Martin’s successor.

The Missouri native has been a local government consultant on executive searches for the Michigan Municipal League since 1994. Baldridge charges $125 an hour and $75 an hour for his commute.

Dowagiac “was very satisfied with the work he did,” Taylor noted.

New Chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Milton Township, Jan. 7 appointed a 10-member committee from the 15-member board.

“When I set up this committee,” Ziliak said, “I wanted other people besides this committee here to be involved with the selection and interview process.
“It sounds like you’re making a motion to extend an offer to this guy without even really talking to him or letting him make a presentation to the board. We know his credentials, based on his resume, but probably people on the selection committee want to ask questions.

“I also want to make sure that the clerk, treasurer, prosecutor and sheriff – some of these other critical department heads – would also have the opportunity to interview this individual before we make a decision on this thing.”

Jan. 21 the commission approved the recruitment committee’s $30,000 budget.

Two commissioners, Higley and Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township, who was absent Thursday night, participated in the 1989 search which brought Proctor from Seekonk, Mass., to succeed Jefferson Township Supervisor Jeffrey Carmen.

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