WHEELING - City Manager Robert Herron is contemplating a move to Kalamazoo, Mich., as one of six finalists for the soon-to-be vacant city manager's position there.
He is set to interview for the job later this month. If he ultimately is offered the position and accepts, he would return to the state where he spent almost seven years of his early career in municipal administration.
Herron, who has supervised Wheeling's day-to-day operations since joining the city in 2002, confirmed Tuesday he is a candidate for the Kalamazoo position but declined to go into detail on his reasons for seeking the job while the selection process is ongoing.
"My interest in no way is a reflection on the city of Wheeling. The City Council, staff and employees and the citizens of Wheeling have been very good to me. I'm very proud and love this wonderful city," he said. "The city of Kalamazoo presents an intriguing opportunity, and I'm honored to be considered a finalist, especially among such a qualified group of finalists."
According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the city recently whittled down a pool of 47 applicants to the six finalists. City Commission members plan to interview each in separate, public one-hour sessions on May 21, with at least another additional round of interviews likely.
Herron declined to comment on whether he is a candidate for any positions other than the Kalamazoo job.
Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said he is aware that Herron has applied for the Kalamazoo job, and added it would be a significant loss for Wheeling if Herron leaves.
"I think that Wheeling has been very fortunate to have a professional city manager for 11 years, and we have always had a flush budget - we've always been well-managed," McKenzie said. "We've never had any issues, and I think a lot of that credit goes to the integrity, the honesty and the hard work of our city manager. ...
"I want to keep him in Wheeling. ... I think that we're going to work very hard to keep him here in Wheeling," McKenzie added.
Located in southwestern Michigan, Kalamazoo is a city of 74,763 residents - about two and a half times Wheeling's population. And unlike Wheeling, where city officials have ended each of the past several fiscal years with a significant cash carryover, Kalamazoo is trying to emerge from financial turmoil after commercial and residential property values there declined almost 20 percent between 2009 and 2012.
As a result, Kalamazoo has been forced to offer early retirement to more than 200 employees - including current City Manager Kenneth Collard - to help keep its budget balanced. According to the city's budget documents, Kalamazoo may have to cut $1.05 million in spending by next year to offset declining revenues.
Herron is set to earn $95,370 in Wheeling during the fiscal year that begins July 1. It's unclear what Herron would be paid in Kalamazoo, as the starting salary there is "open and dependent on qualifications," according to information from Murray and Associates, the firm hired to recruit candidates for the job.
The 52-year-old Herron is a 1983 graduate of the former West Liberty State College. A few months after receiving a degree in business administration, he took a management specialist position at Bel-O-Mar Regional Council, headquartered in Wheeling.
From 1985-87, he served as assistant city manager for Greenville, Mich., before taking the city manager position in Belleville, Mich., in 1987. In 1992, he moved back to his native Ohio, serving as city manager of Conneaut in the northeastern corner of the state for 10 years before taking the Wheeling job in February 2002 under former Mayor Nick Sparachane's first administration.
If Herron leaves, it would be up to City Council to fill the vacancy.