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East Lansing hires new city manager, thanks Talifarro for interim service

Robert Belleman stands at a podium and addresses the East Lansing City Council and audience members.
Arjun Thakkar
Robert Belleman, East Lansing's incoming city manager, asked the community to "take the time to get to know me."

East Lansing has a new city manager.

The city council voted 4-1 Tuesday to hire Robert Belleman on a two-year contract. Belleman is the former Controller and Chief Administrative Officer of Saginaw County.

He will be responsible for carrying out the council’s goals and overseeing city employees.

The council recommended Belleman for the position last month after interviewing five applicants. Some community members have criticized the decision as he was dismissed from his previous position amid allegations of fostering a “toxic work environment.”

Belleman told the council he’s eager to connect with the city’s staff and residents.

“I know there was a lot written about me, I know there were a lot of comments made about me, so I ask that you take the time to get to know me," he said. "I believe that’s the cornerstone of this community, and I just ask for that time. Likewise, I will work hard to get to know all of you.”

Belleman’s negotiated contract sets his salary at $180,000 a year, with guaranteed severance if the contract is terminated or not renewed.

Council member George Brookover took issue with parts of the contract. He said he hopes Belleman is successful in the role, but voted against the contract over the severance provisions.

Brookover noted the public criticized the city's severance package for former city manager George Lahanas's dismissal and said it would be "unwise at this time" to commit to that for Belleman

The selection ends a months-long search for a new permanent manager. Over the last several months, the city had been working to address a wave of high-profile vacancies and push back on allegations of an overreach in leadership.

The meeting was Randy Talifarro’s last as interim city manager, a position he has occupied since February. Talifarro has overseen a number of actions that were geared towards maintaining stability in the city, including the passage of retention bonuses for employees.

Talifarro pushed back on claims that the city has been “in turmoil” and thanked employees for continuing to work for East Lansing.

“What I will say is this group has everyday come in, gone to work, put their head back down, and did everything they could for the residents of this community and I appreciate you and I just want to acknowledge you.”

Belleman starts as city manager next week.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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