TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners officially hired an Upper Peninsula man to be the city’s top bureaucrat, though he’ll come in second on the city’s salary ranking.
City officials learned this week that Jered Ottenwess cleared reference, driving, credit, and criminal background checks and passed physical and drug tests. Ottenwess and the city now will sign an employment contract that pays him $100,000 annually, plus a $250 a month car allowance and three weeks of vacation.
“I signed the contract (Thursday),” said Mary Ann Moore, mayor pro tem. “Everything had to be checked out and he’s clean as whistle, if a whistle is clean.”
The city council of Ishpeming agreed to release Ottenwess from his city manager contract early so Ottenwess can start his new job July 22. He will replace Ben Bifoss, who will retire June 28, the end of the city’s fiscal year.
“We are really going to miss Ben,” Moore said. “I’m excited about this new guy, but Ben has been a superb city manager, always professional and above the fray.”
Ottenwess’ salary puts him behind Tim Arends, the former controller and new executive director of Traverse City Light & Power. The utility board agreed May 28 to pay Arends $108,000 annually, plus a $350 monthly car allowance and a onetime $3,500 stipend for handling the controller’s duties. He receives five weeks of vacation a year.
“The $108,000 is low compared to public utilities of our size,” said attorney Pete Doren, who negotiated the contract with Arends for the utility. “I tried to keep some parity with the executive salaries the city pays.”
Arends’ predecessor, Ed Rice, made $116,800, still well below the median salary of $130,000 plus for similarly sized public utilities.
Bifoss earns $102,000 a year, but his salary also was comparably low and the city was prepared to pay up to $120,000.
Both jobs are a financial step up for the two men. Arends had no previous experience running an electric utility and made $95,500 as its financial controller. Ottenwess managed a city one-fifth the size of Traverse City, where he earned $76,000 annually.
Ottenwess could catch Arends in a couple of years because his contract calls for two annual raises of $5,000 if he has a positive evaluation.