New clerk resigns before taking city position

January 3, 2020

James Allen, who had been sworn in as the new city clerk in Birmingham at the city commission meeting on December 16, unexpectedly resigned Monday, December 30, prior to beginning the position.

Allen, who worked in the clerk's office in West Bloomfield, wrote to city manager Joe Valentine that since he was selected and sworn in as clerk, “I have dealt with an unexpected weight of anxiety that I have been unable to overcome.” While he had always acknowledged he is a low-key person, he apologized for not realizing that he could not handle being in a public position.

On Friday, January 3, the ad hoc city clerk selection committee reconvened to determine their next steps. Valentine said they have a few options, including going back to their original candidates and seeing if any are right for the position, especially in light of elections in March, August and November, and that interim clerk Cheryl Arft has announced that she will retire sometime this summer, likely before the August election. The city currently has a posting for a deputy clerk position.

Birmingham human resources manager Ben Myers noted they have already received over 100 applications for deputy clerk, but very few have had municipal clerk experience.

Commissioner Rackeline Hoff suggested waiting until after the January 17 deadline and seeing who applies for it, and then hiring two deputy clerks, with the idea that one could later be promoted to city clerk.

Commissioner Stuart Sherman noted the number two applicant in the city clerk candidate search was only within a point of Allen, the first choice candidate.

“She had a lot going for her,” he said. “I think we move forward with our second choice… We can't teach enthusiasm, and we can't teach smarts. Whether they fit into the culture, that's something I can't control. She met those two criteria.”

“I think the number two candidate would work well in this community, and she has quite a bit of experience in elections,” Arft said. “I think she's someone who would fit in with the city. She was very confident, which I think would be good. You have to be confident to be a clerk.”

“She may be able to jump into the position, but it's premature to put her in the position,” countered Hoff. “If she applies for the deputy position, maybe we can try her out. She has no management experience. We don't have a gauge on her other skills. I am not in favor of bringing her on for clerk.”

The committee decided to delay a decision until after the January 17 deadline for deputy clerk to see the entire pool of applicants, while acknowledging that a hiring decision would put a candidate starting likely at the beginning of March, when, as Sherman said, “we'll know nothing about how they'll be as an election official.” Absentee ballots go out around the first of February.

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