SJ Commission Candidates Talk City Operations

There could be three new St. Joseph City Commissioners following November’s elections, and that could mean the way the body oversees city operations could change. During Wednesday’s WSJM forum with eight of the nine candidates running in next Tuesday’s elections, they were asked how they think commissioners should interact with staff like the city manager. Candidate Brook Thomas drew on her experience as a board member of the OutCenter in Benton Harbor.

“When working with my executive director, as a board member, we really don’t focus on day to day things, we look at more big picture things,” Thomas said. “It’s the role of the executive director to handle the more day to day things, and that’s kind of how I see working with city commissioners and management of city staff.”

Ben Rimes said it’s not a commission’s role to intervene on day to day matters.

“I don’t believe it’s the role of the city commission to micromanage in any departments or anything,” Rimes said. “I’ve seen that happen on school boards, and it’s not pretty.”

Michelle Binkley, the only incumbent running, said she’s had good relations with city staff during her time on the commission.

“Our city manager brought us through a pandemic in an amazing way, so we do think that he did a great job,” Binkley said. “He works really well with the city employees, who are very dedicated employees.”

Candidate Chris Lannert said commissioners should hold staff accountable.

“If we’re going to change the way the world’s working, we’re going to have to start with a bottom up approach,” Lannert said. “The top down or trickle down approach really hasn’t worked. We the people have to take charge of the government.”

Elizabeth Thomas said the commission’s role is to create policies and look at the big picture without wandering into the weeds. Tom Jennings said the current city manager does an excellent job. Of the nine candidates in Tuesday’s primary, six will go on to the November election and then three will be elected. We’ll have more stories with thoughts from all the candidates as we approach next week’s vote.