BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor’s new interim city manager is wasting no time getting settled into his position after being hired by city commissioners Thursday evening.
Ellis Mitchell said Monday was actually his fourth day on the job because he worked through the weekend.
“I had a lot to do. I was just trying to get caught up,” he said.
On Saturday, he ended up helping restore electricity at Jean Klock Park for the Steppin on the Beach concert.
“We got it resolved,” he said. “But while out there, I saw some other things that need attention.”
He said he saw some parking problems that can be handled better.
This isn’t the first time Mitchell has managed the city.
The Memphis, Tenn., native said he started working as Benton Harbor’s city manager in 1983 until giving commissioners his 60-day notice in December 1986, with him staying on the job until the new city manager took over in February 1987. At the time, Mitchell told reporters that he was moving back to Maryland where his family lived.
At a banquet in Mitchell’s honor before he left, then-Mayor Wilce Cooke praised Mitchell for the way he improved the city’s relationships not only internally, but with other municipalities.
Even though he left Southwest Michigan, he said he often visited.
“I love this area,” said the Vietnam war veteran. “You can drive 10 minutes and be at a golf course enjoying the outdoors. Or you can drive to a lake and do some fishing. The state is wide open.”
Mitchell said he’s spent his career working in local, state and federal government positions serving people, but he always wanted to return to Benton Harbor.
He said he applied for a job in the city in 2006 but didn’t get it. Two years ago, he said he was hired as a mobility manager at Benton Harbor Dial-A-Ride, which gave him another way to serve people.
Mitchell said that when he read in The Herald-Palladium that commissioners were looking for an interim city manager, he got his resume together and hand-delivered it to the commissioners.
“I have a chance to help the city with the skills and the knowledge that I have,” he said. “I have a lot to offer. ... I want to be part of (the city’s) growth and rebuilding.”
Mitchell said his title may be interim now, but he plans to apply for the position when it is posted.
One of his goals is to get the residents more involved in making decisions about how the city should be run. He also wants to make the city more attractive to the commuters who drive down Main Street every work day.
“I want them to want to stop in Benton Harbor and shop here,” he said. “I want them to feel welcome and to feel proud to stop in our city.”
Commissioner Juanita Henry said she’s happy to have Mitchell onboard.
“He’s more than qualified, and he has a zest for Benton Harbor,” she said. “He’s been enough places to see innovative ideas that worked in different municipalities.”
Henry said the search for a new city manager could take up to six months and that Mitchell is welcome to apply.
“He’ll be able to show us what he’s about these next few months,” she said.
Commissioners declared the city to be in a state of emergency July 22 when they fired former city manager Darwin Watson but didn’t have a replacement. Watson had been working under a day-to-day agreement. They gave no reason for the action.
While under a state of emergency, the mayor is in charge.
On July 23, Mayor Marcus Muhammad rehired Watson as public works and utility services director and as chief of staff, who reported to the mayor during the emergency.
The city’s state of emergency ended when Mitchell was hired Thursday night.
Muhammad said the chief of staff position expired, meaning Watson now reports to Mitchell.
The mayor said there is still some paperwork that needs to be filled out before Mitchell can take over all responsibilities, like signing checks so the staff can get paid. But he said he expects the transition to go smoothly.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege