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County braces to move forward with search for new administrator

County braces to move forward with search for new administrator

Grand Traverse County is once again without a county administrator.

Vicki Uppal resigned Wednesday after only being on the job since September.

Not only is the county now without an administrator, it's also without a deputy administrator, an HR director, a facilities director, and a planning director, according to District 7 County Commissioner Dr. Bob Johnson.

Johnson says the county is now in a "hole."

"Even though our Chair wants to make it sound like everything is fine and dandy, it's definitely not," Johnson said.

Board Chair, Carol Crawford told fellow commissioners not to worry Wednesday night when the news broke.

Uppal cited in a letter to commissioners that she had "personal family circumstances" that required her full attention.

"We are not without leadership, we are not without a direction," Crawford said in an interview on Wednesday. "Vicki left us with a very good direction and set us on the right path."

Johnson questions that direction.

"I had no idea which direction the county was going, or where she was trying to take the county," Johnson said. "She didn't really communicate that to the board."

Johnson said he questioned Uppal's ability to lead the county from the beginning.

"When Vicki was hired it was a 4-3 decision," Johnson said. "I didn't feel like she was the right person for the job at the time."

During her time, Uppal fired Deputy Administrator Jennifer Dehaan, citing poor performance.

Days later the county finance director resigned.

Former County Administrator, Tom Menzel believes Uppal was brought in to make those kinds of organizational changes.

"She was hired with that charter and I think she did what the current majority of the board wanted her to do," Menzel said.

He says he never spoke with Uppal during their transition.

"Usually you would have a discussion with the current administrator and deputy administrator and you'd want to spend a lot of time with the finance department to assess what the financial situation was," Menzel said. "And you do that for the reason of you wanting to see what you're getting into and see if you have a chance of being successful."

Johnson says he doesn't have reason to believe more is at play here, but some question if this was the plan all along.

"I actually had some members in the public ask me that and I guess I'd be shocked if someone was that smart to pull of a plan like this," Johnson said. "And if it is, then I don't know what it's for."

Uppal's contract states she had to give 45 days notice of resignation in order to collect three months severance.

Johnson doesn't believe she should get that because she broke contract by not giving notice, but he's hoping to discuss things further at a meeting next week.

Johnson says the hiring firm will likely be assisting the county to find a new administrator again, this time without cost because Uppal resigned before 24 months.

Interim Deputy County Administrator Jean Derenzy will take over in the position as soon as possible.

The commission is meeting next Wednesday to discuss further county administrator options for a study session.

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