Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 28, 2013

Traverse City manager's resignation catches many by surprise


TRAVERSE CITY — City Manager Ben Bifoss will start work on the city's budget for the next fiscal year, but he won't be around to implement it.

Bifoss emailed city commissioners his resignation Monday afternoon, catching many by surprise after a little more than four years on the job. His resignation is effective June 28, the last work day of the current fiscal year.

He leaves without a detractor on a diverse and sometimes divided seven-member commission.

"I'm surprised and disappointed," said Mayor Michael Estes. "He's been a true pleasure to work with, and if I had my choice, I wouldn't let him retire."

Bifoss called his tenure at Traverse City the "highlight of his career" in a brief, four-paragraph letter of resignation. He praised the commission for its "remarkable spirit of public service" and cited the city's "talented and dedicated public employees.

"I've had a wonderful relationship with the commission, it's the best job in Michigan," he said.

Bifoss, 59, said he's not taking another job nor is he retiring for health reasons.

"I'm retiring because I can and life is short," he said. "It's time."

Bifoss' wife, a teacher, is also retiring this year.

"She has big travel plans for me," he said.

His 35-year career included 28 years in city administration with stints in Manistee, Grand Haven, Minnesota, and Montana.

Bifoss was a project manager for Abonmarche Consultants in Manistee before coming to Traverse City in November 2008. He replaced Richard Lewis, who had served as city manager for 15 years.

Commissioner Jim Carruthers didn't expect 15 years from Bifoss but had hoped for a few more, he said.

"He's good at what he does," Carruthers said. "He's pretty even tempered, a mild-mannered kind of person who doesn't bring a lot of emotion into his decisions."

Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn described Bifoss as a man of few words who worked well with the townships.

"We thought he was fair and didn't talk just to hear himself talk like a lot of people at those meetings," Korn said

Commissioner Jody Bergman recalls Bifoss telling the commission during its first interview that five years was a good tenure for a city manager and he'll come pretty close to that number.

"It doesn't surprise me, but I'm sorry to see him go," she said.

The commission tentatively scheduled a special study session to discuss finding a replacement for Bifoss on Feb. 4 before or after its regular 7 p.m. meeting.