Meet Chelsea’s New City Manager Roy Atkinson
By Doug Marrin
New Chelsea City Manager Roy Atkinson is enthusiastic about Chelsea. Little did he know that he would one day be managing the beautiful little town where he spent his college dates.
“The placemaking in Chelsea comes natural,” says Roy. “We have something that’s really amazing. I always knew if I were to manage a community, I would want to manage here.”
Placemaking is the collaborative process by which a community shapes its public spaces to maximize shared value, which Chelsea works hard at creating. It can be seen in downtown initiatives such as Palmer Commons and Chelsea POP, the traffic calming measures implemented around town to slow traffic and increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Another example is the collaborative effort to transform the former Federal Screw property into a city park.
Atkinson, a 32-year-old Bay City native, did his undergraduate work in political science at Saginaw Valley State University. He went to Central Michigan University to study local government management, receiving his Master's Degree.
“I’ve always been interested in government,” he says. “I found it was the best way for me to use the skills and interests I have.”
Not only was local government a good fit for Roy, but the field will also have lots of opportunities in the coming years. “There are going to be a lot of jobs available because of people aging out,” he says. “You can see that all across the sector with municipal managers. Industry experts call it the ‘silver tsunami.’”
With his career course set, Roy proceeded full steam ahead. He landed a city manager internship in his hometown of Bay City. After that, he was awarded a fellowship through the Michigan Local Government Management Association and was placed in Clare, where he rotated through all of the city’s departments. Roy received another fellowship from the International City/County Management Association for a position in Altoona, Wisconsin.
In Altoona, Atkinson began as a management analyst. He collaborated with all city departments, working closely with the city administrator. That position launched him into Assistant City Administrator for Altoona. He was happy in his role with the city and was ready to plant himself there.
But life played a couple of wild cards. Roy’s fiancée, Kelsey, with whom he spent those early dates in Chelsea, still lived in Dexter. When Chelsea’s top spot opened up, the couple conversed and decided he should apply for it.
“The opportunity to potentially work for Chelsea really intrigued me for its beautiful downtown and great community factors,” says Roy. “I had also heard of Chelsea as one of those amazing communities in Michigan. I put Chelsea on a list with places like Traverse City and Charlevoix in terms of a boutique community.”
Boutique communities are those small towns that develop and accentuate their identity to increase attractiveness.
Atkinson applied for the city manager position along with some 50 other applicants, which became eight after the initial screening. Roy was in the final five for public interviews and emerged one of three finalists.
Chelsea is a perfect fit for Roy’s love of the outdoors. Growing up, he spent a lot of time outside. Roy loves to hike, bike, fish, and anything else that gets the sun on his face and wind in his hair. The area’s trail systems caught his attention immediately, especially the B2B Trail system and how it connects Chelsea to other communities.
This regional perspective is at the forefront of Roy’s thinking. “Regionalism is important, strengthening relationships with surrounding townships, communities, and county, thinking with a regional perspective rather than an insulated city,” he says. “Especially with the housing developments in process right now.”
Roy came into the position six weeks ago with a full plate set waiting for him. The city has open spots for a community development director, administrative director, and police chief (upon current Police Chief Toth’s retirement on August 15). While staffing is competitive and challenging, Roy sees it as an excellent opportunity to build a new team.
He extends that collaborative approach to residents as well. “I have an open door,” he says. “If anyone has any good ideas and suggestions, I invite them to come in and meet with me.”
“If I know anything so far in my short time here, we have an amazing community,” he says. “Our city is committed to continuing that.”