A test of wills

In the end, Mike Will's greatest strength and greatest weakness as city manager may have been one and the same: He was a dirt-under-
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

In the end, Mike Will's greatest strength and greatest weakness as city manager may have been one and the same: He was a dirt-under-the-fingernails kind of guy who preferred to do, rather than talk about it.

If things go well, Will's legacy as city manager will be a handful of large projects that might redefine Sandusky's character and its future -- that might even make a future possible. The irony is that much of what should reflect favorably on his time as city manager began during his previous job, that of city planner. In that relatively low-key, under-the-radar job, Will planted and nurtured the seeds of some major projects, some of which yet bear promise: the Paper District, to name the most obvious.

And in a strange way, Will shares one major trait with predecessors who were exactly his opposite when it came to public relations: He complemented his city commission.

People such as Frank Link, Gerald Lechner to a lesser extent, and even the unlamented Rick Finn were comfortable in the public eye, perfectly willing to be the public face of the city of Sandusky. But they worked for commissions that, as bodies, were mostly low-key, content to speak their piece every other week in commission chambers and leave the details, and the answers, to the city manager.

Will, on the other hand, worked for a new breed of commissioners -- gregarious, voluble and often contentious, much more willing to micromanage and often unwilling to trust someone else (or, let's face it, each other) with the details or the public speaking. His own style, for the most part, complemented that, except when it rubbed up against his other trait, the desire to keep the train perfectly on the rails even under orders from those who preferred the sudden lane change with no signal.

However well Don Miears does as interim city manager -- and we can't imagine a retired executive wanting to work for a dollar a year forever -- the commission-manager relationship for Sandusky will have to be redefined, or at least refined, by the time Will's full-time successor is chosen. Commissioners have to get comfortable with setting policy and leaving the details to whomever's in the trenches day-to-day, and that person -- the city manager -- has to be comfortable with working out the details, trusting his or her own people in turn, and being the public face of the daily operation.

It's possible that might be an important part of the affable Miears' role: helping redefine and civilize the manager-commissioner relationship.