Executive Profile: Amy Sullivan, City Manager, Huntington Woods
Number of full time employees:
$7.6 million general fund budget
Years in Current Position:
Years in the Profession:
It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s been 38 years – 20 years working full-time and 18 years working as a consultant on 312 arbitrations
College Attended and Degree Program:
I received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Michigan State University and my Masters in Public Administration from Central Michigan University.
What path lead you to your current position?
It was not a typical path – in fact I didn’t know anything about city government when I got my first job. I had worked as an intern in a Representative’s office in Lansing while I was going to MSU and one of the things I did was respond to constituents. At the time I graduated, the City of Madison Heights was looking for an ombudsman to handle calls from residents and I got the job based on my intern experience. I started out as an Administrative Assistant in Madison Heights, then Assistant City Manager in Huntington Woods, City Manager of Sylvan Lake, Deputy Supervisor in West Bloomfield, a consultant for 312 arbitrations, Village Manager of Franklin and now City Manager of Huntington Woods.
What do you enjoy most about being a city manager?
I like that every day is different and you solve problems.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
My biggest hurdle was when I lost my job in West Bloomfield as the Deputy Supervisor because the Supervisor was not re-elected. It was a big financial setback, but in the end, I think it worked out best. Shortly after I was laid off, I had the opportunity to do some contractual work for a former employer and ended up doing that line of work for 18 years. It allowed me to stay home and raise my 3 kids while keeping a hand in the profession without working full-time.
What are some of the most important skills it takes to be a city manager?
Patience: you deal with a wide variety of people and some of them are not happy.
Ability to identify the cause of a problem: then you can work on solutions.
Empathy: when you’re responding to residents.
Ability to say no: when you’re responding to residents, saying no is hard.
What project has been most meaningful in your career to date?
The most meaningful work I do is union contract negotiations. I find it important to find a balance between what is in the City’s best interest while also taking into account the impact on the employees. Essentially the only thing cities do is provide services. We need dedicated employees to do that, so their well-being is also a consideration when negotiating.
What is your best tip for entering the profession?
Start at the bottom in a small city.
What is your best tip for succeeding in the profession?
Remember the only thing you take with you from job to job, is your integrity. Do the right thing.
How do you establish the best relationship with your elected officials?
Every Council is different so there is no one size fits all. Be yourself when interacting with your Council. If you’ve been hired, you must have the skill set – so develop the same kind of relationship you have with your staff.