Michigan man knows our issues, commission says
By Rich Pollack
After a few hiccups, Highland Beach has a new town manager.
Following a day and a half of intensive interviews, Highland Beach commissioners selected Marshall Labadie of South Lyon, Mich., as town manager.
“Marshall is smart, energetic, well rounded, dedicated and experienced,” said Commissioner Elyse Riesa. “He has fresh eyes to look at our town.”
Under a proposed contract the Town Commission is expected to approve in early September, Labadie will receive a salary of $150,000 plus benefits, up from the $139,000 paid to the previous manager. He is scheduled to start Oct. 1 and will also receive $15,000 in relocation expenses.
Currently the development services director for the suburban Detroit township of West Bloomfield, Labadie reports directly to the township board while managing a staff of 14 full-time employees as well as six contract employees.
He is charged with administering a $4 million operating budget and a $15 million capital projects budget and has served as the township’s planning director and building department director.
“My family and I are very excited to move to Highland Beach and become engaged in the community,” Labadie said.
Commissioners found that many of the issues Labadie has worked on — or was still working on — in Michigan were similar to those facing Highland Beach.
“His projects are very close in line with what we’re doing here,” Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman said. “They’re finishing up a streetscape program and that’s similar to what we’re doing.”
A Michigan native familiar with the West Bloomfield area, Gossett-Seidman pointed out other similarities between the two communities, especially in the age and income level demographics.
Another plus for Labadie, she said, is his knowledge of key environmental issues. Labadie holds a degree in environmental science and economics from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in management from Walsh College in Michigan.
He was responsible for creating West Bloomfield’s sustainability policy and has worked as an environmental manager in the Ann Arbor area as well as a soil erosion officer.
Although a few of the five other finalists for the Highland Beach job are or have previously served as town managers, Gossett-Seidman said Labadie’s experience more than qualifies him for the job.
“If you look at what he’s done, he might as well have been a town manager,” she said.
Labadie said he will bring a “strategic management style that focuses on a team approach, transparency and respect for all stakeholders” to his new job, and thinks his 20 years of varied governmental experience fits well with Highland Beach’s needs.
“Public administration is my life’s passion,” he told commissioners while in town for interviews. “I think I’m built for handling tough issues. I’ve dealt with situations similar to what you have here that I know I can come in and help.”
Labadie said he became interested in the job after doing research and thought he could be a good match for the town.
“Also, the town manager position with Highland Beach aligns with my career goals, providing an opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally in a beautiful, premier southern Florida community,” he said.
Labadie was chosen from a list of finalists that included Mark Stivers, the deputy director of community sustainability for Lake Worth; Tom Bradford, former Palm Beach town manager; William Vance, former city manager of Pickerington, Ohio; and Kevin Abbate, director of parks and recreation for Martin County.
“Every single one of the candidates was terrific,” Riesa said. “They all had so much to offer. It was a difficult choice.”
The selection of Labadie came after a previous effort to find a candidate ended in commissioners firing their search firm, contending that the firm didn’t provide them with qualified finalists. Commissioners then sorted through a list of more than 70 people who applied for the job, choosing candidates they felt would better fit their needs.
Until Labadie starts work, Town Clerk Lanelda Gaskins will fill both roles.
The Highland Beach town manager position opened in May when commissioners fired Valerie Oakes with a 3-2 vote. Former Gulf Stream Town Manager Bill Thrasher served as interim town manager until his three-month contract expired Aug. 21.