During an open house on Thursday, community members, city workers and others gathered at City Hall to see off Cotton, who resigned June 21. His resignation was accepted by City Council later that day.
His decision took effect Friday, June 30, which aligns with his contractual agreement with the city. He has worked as city manager since 2012.
“I have a lot of pride in Holland’s work ethic, in its ability to get things done through more of a unified approach,” said Cotton, who previously served as manager in both Grand Haven and Spring Lake. “I’m proud to have been a part of that. I hope I’ve contributed, and I look forward to helping as a general citizen.”
Mayor Nancy DeBoer told the Sentinel his resignation also comes after an employee evaluation requested by Cotton, which took place in closed sessions June 14 and 19.
Cotton said he is “partially retiring,” as he will remain a consultant for the city until June 2018. He will also continue teaching at the collegiate level and consulting for other areas. He added that he will be a volunteer on certain projects that he has been involved in, like the Civic Center renovations.
“We’ll see what loose ends there might be, and anything I can do to help tie up those loose ends is what I see my role as,” he said.
Cotton added that he will assist with the transition when the city finds its next manager. Meanwhile, Holland Public Safety Chief Matt Messer is currently the temporary interim manager.
In his retirement, Cotton said he’s looking forward to “doing things in a less hurried way.”
“Without feeling like we’re leaving a loose end here, which is how you feel as a city manager — you really want to be available,” he said. “That will be a nice change of pace.”
Councilman David Hoekstra, who attended the open house, said Cotton helped the city through hard financial times after the recession. Others have reflected on the same thing.
“He got to the city when we needed the gift set that he had,” Hoekstra said. “He initiated a lot of things. He’s done a lot.”
When he resigned, City Council members highlighted the projects spearheaded by Cotton — the Community Energy Plan, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and the Holland Youth Connections program.
The next step is appointing a long-term interim manager. DeBoer said this will likely happen in the next week or so and will need to be voted on by council.
Once that happens, she said, a firm will likely be considered to help the city with a national search for a new manager. She said with the interim and throughout the search process, it will be business as usual with a committee working on the side to find candidates, ensuring a smooth transition.
“It’s amazing in the United States of America, the friendly transition of power,” she said. “Everybody understands it’s for a time, and it’s someone else’s time.”
Hoekstra and DeBoer have both been through a city manager transition after the retirement of Soren Wolff. That process took about a year.
“We’re not used to doing things half-baked, so we’ll take the time necessary to find the right people,” Hoekstra said.
He added that a new manager will need to help with succession planning within the city. Staffing was a large topic of discussion as council set its budget for the next fiscal year.
“Building a cohesive chain of new people, in the context of an emerging budget, will be the biggest task for them,” he said.