Holland taps Cotton for city manager post

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:22 AM

Cotton, 52, has served as Spring Lake village manager for the past 10 years. He was previously Grand Haven’s city manager from 1995 until he was terminated from the post in 2002.

Holland City Council cited Cotton’s listening and grant writing skills; and experience with local, regional and state government in choosing him.

“They have a great team of highly experienced individuals who have a good heart,” Cotton said of Holland city officials. “They know how to make a community a livable and quality place to live, and that’s something I’ve always tried to do — work in all my communities to make them the very best places they can be. I look forward to contributing and continuing their traditions.”

Cotton was one of two finalists for the job. Holland City Council and city manager search committee members met Wednesday prior to the council meeting to discuss their options after the other finalist, Derek Todd of Colorado, unexpectedly withdrew his name from consideration due to personal and family reasons.

Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra told council during the joint meeting that they could choose to reopen the search process or begin negotiations with Cotton.

Many council members said that even if he hadn’t been the only candidate, Cotton was their first choice to fill the position, which opened when Soren Wolff retired in September 2011 after 23 years as city manager. Interim Holland City Manager Greg Robinson did not apply for the position.

“We had two very, very fine candidates,” Councilman Myron Trethewey said. “Ryan has a good West Michigan background. He understands the culture we have here. And he has a very decent track record. His personality stands out.”

Councilman Jay Peters, who knew Cotton from his work with the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, said the Spring Lake village manager and Grand Haven resident was “always one of those people who seemed to be the voice of reason and he helped formalize strategy for a regional planning process. We’re fortunate to have this candidate be in front of us. He’s a great choice.”

Council members said Cotton’s familiarity and reputation with regional, state and national representatives should help smooth out the learning curve.

“In Ryan I see somebody who is known by county, state and national leaders,” Councilman Bob Vande Vusse said. “I think that gives him a leg up and he’s better able to hit the ground running.”

Dykstra and a subcommittee will begin negotiations with Cotton in the next couple of days. If a contract agreement can be reached, council will vote on the pact to make it official.

Dykstra said Cotton’s start date and salary would be part of the negotiations.

Wolff’s salary was in the $120,000 range, according to the mayor. Cotton currently makes about $80,000 with the village.

Dykstra said Cotton’s “mutual separation agreement” with the city of Grand Haven in 2002 was not a concern.

“His departure from Grand Haven was one of those events that happens in the life of a city manager,” Dykstra said. “We’re comfortable. He received a glowing letter of recommendation from the (Grand Haven) mayor at the time, and Spring Lake recognized his skills and snapped him up almost immediately.”

Cotton has amassed $5.1 million in grants and zero-interest loans in his time with the Village of Spring Lake, including numerous grants for the recently completed Grand River Greenway nonmotorized path.

Cotton, a Traverse City native, said Holland has long been at the top of his municipal management wish list. He and his wife, Karen, will have to relocate to Holland as part of the contract agreement.

“I’m feeling two emotions right now,” Cotton said after learning of his selection. “I’m feeling a great deal of joy to be able to pursue the career I love in a phenomenal community such as Holland. The second feeling is one of sadness in leaving what has been a superlative team.

“It’s been an honor to serve Spring Lake these last 10 years,” he added. “I look forward to making the transition as smooth as possible. I am so grateful for this opportunity — it could not be working out better for me and my family.”

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