Saline's New City Manager To Arrive Just In Time For The Holidays

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Saline’s incoming City Manager, Colleen O’Toole is coming to town for the same reason that a lot of Saline residents probably moved to the city.

“I think the really unique thing for Saline, for me, is proximity to my family,” in Toronto and Cleveland, O’Toole said. O’Toole added that she liked the high level of citizen to city community engagement and the reputation of the city for being a good place to raise a family. “There’s a beautiful, historic downtown, phenomenal schools [and] significant opportunities to access outdoor recreational space.”

O’Toole starts her new role on December 14, fresh off of her most recent job as the City Manager for Durand; a small town about halfway between Flint and Lansing.

“We always knew she would move on,” Brian Boggs, the Mayor Pro Tem of Durand, said. He had nothing but good things to say about Colleen’s work as the City Manager there, touting accomplishments in attracting firms, refinancing municipal debt, and streamlining municipal bureaucracy.

Council members Jack Ceo, Christen Mitchell, Jim Dell'Orco and Mayor Brian Marl all told the Sun Times-News about how impressed they were by the succinct professionalism and clarity to which O’Toole responded to their questioning in the interview process.

“I looked at resumes before looking at names. Right away, I noticed one candidate had a really good combination of skills; including economic development. Because our city is in the middle of an administrative consent order with the state, I was particularly interested that one candidate had experience solving that particular problem,” Christen Mitchell, an outgoing member of the council, told the Sun-Times News over email. “During the interview, Miss O’Toole answered all of the questions completely in much less time than was allocated. That told me the candidate was very efficient, a much needed skill for working with [the] City Council.”

One of the two major long-term issues O’Toole identified in her interviews was the economic development of the city. O’Toole adheres to an economic philosophy called “the economic gardening model.” This approach places the city’s role in identifying opportunities for existing businesses in the community and connecting businesses together.

“In some cases that may include expanding,” the economy, O’Toole said. “In some cases that may be about helping to attract a specific supplier, or end user of their product, in order to streamline the supply chain system for them. In every case, it starts with sitting down and having conversations with business owners in our community, to identify their needs; and to start developing programs and policies that are geared specifically to existing businesses within the city of Saline.”

O’Toole also mentioned in both of her interviews with City Council her preference for infill architecture; which is the practice of finding unused plots of land within old neighborhoods and using, or reusing what is there to fill in the space to create denser, more cohesive neighborhoods, rather than just sprawling out endlessly from downtown.

“We all probably know places in the community that stick out as a blank spot, or somewhere where the continuity of downtown could be continued if only for that next phase of development. That really is what infill is about,” O’Toole said. “It’s identifying targeted locations where certain development would be of value because it matches not only master planning goals, but the community aesthetic; and this idea that we can’t just keep building new in green space.”

The other major issue on the horizon, O’Toole said, was dealing with Saline’s aging wastewater treatment system, which is unlikely to keep up with projected growth. Marl said that he was looking forward on working with her on finding ways to update that facility, support existing local businesses, attracting new firms and tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

But since this is 2020, the coronavirus pandemic will also be a major challenge for the new city manager. O’Toole said that dealing with the pandemic on a municipal level will hinge around well written policy, setting the example with mask and disinfectant use and employing consistent disinfection protocols.

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