TRAVERSE CITY — Jered Ottenwess is thrilled to be Traverse City’s top candidate for city manager.
Traverse City Commissioners named Ottenwess, 34, the finalist to replace retiring City Manager Ben Bifoss after interviewing six candidates over the weekend. Currently city manager for Ishpeming in the Upper Peninsula, Ottenwess was the lone candidate to make each commissioner’s top-three list. Mayor Michael Estes called him the top choice of just about every commissioner.
“I’m super excited,” Ottenwess said. “My wife and I really love the area. We’ve traveled and visited the area and we’ve had relatives who’ve lived there … our families are downstate and we love living up north, so it’s really a happy medium.”
Commissioners said they felt more than comfortable giving Ottenwess a chance at the job after interviewing him despite his young age.
“He was probably the youngest candidate we interviewed and all had a lot of experience, some excessively more than this individual,” Estes said. “But you didn’t see any holes in the questions we asked him.”
Several commissioners said Ottenwess did the most research and had the most background on Traverse City, citing little details like the city’s ability to plow its sidewalks when discussing the budget.
“In Ishpeming we get 200 inches of snow a year,” Ottenwess said. “For me (plowing sidewalks) is a dream.”
Ottenwess’ employment is not a done deal yet. The city commission won’t officially offer him the position until it completes a second, more thorough background check. A committee of three commissioners plans to meet with Ottenwess on Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Governmental Center to negotiate a contract. The job pays up to $120,000 annually.
The commission expects to act on the appointment May 20.
“He’s going to be a very good and interesting fit for the community,” said city Commissioner Mike Gillman. “He’s the youngest of the candidates, but it was clear he has a level of enthusiasm about him that was impressive.”
Ottenwess worked for Ishpeming for three years and as a city manager in Trenton, Fla., for five years.
“I’m a young manager, but I’m not inexperienced,” Ottenwess said.
He told commissioners Ishpeming has an organizational structure similar to Traverse City but with fewer employees in the departments.
“The concepts are the same, it’s a matter of scale,” Ottenwess said.
Ottenwess told the Record-Eagle his first priority for Traverse City is to complete a contract.
“(Then) I’ll start thinking through the details of the first months on the job, getting to know people and the goals of the commission.”