MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Muskegon Heights’ city manager will soon be out of a job.
A bitterly divided city council voted 4-3 Monday night not to renew Troy Bells’ contract, which ends Jan. 31.
The council met in closed session until around 11:30 p.m., at which time it reconvened in council chambers and ousted Bell.
“I’m very disappointed,” exclaimed Mayor Pro Tem Ronald Jenkins. “As a city, we still have to operate, and we’re walking out of here as if nothing matters. This really is affecting the operation and the longevity or the survival of our city.”
“I’m very disappointed because we had no vision as to what our next step is,” Jenkins added.
Jenkins, who voted to keep Bell, pushed the council to schedule another meeting as soon as possible to begin the search for Bell’s replacement.
“We don’t meet for another two weeks. We can’t wait another two weeks as if we didn’t just make a major decision,” Jenkins said.
Councilwoman Bonnie McGlothin, who voted to terminate Bell, questioned the city manager’s status pending his contract’s expiration.
“Mr. Bell is done as of tonight, correct? Will he be allowed to be in the building?” asked McGlothin.
Mayor Walter Watt urged the council to allow Bell to stay until Jan. 31.
“We are in a state of emergency in my opinion,” Watt said. “We have issues with our water filtration facility. We have pending projects that need to be moved forward.”
Watt, who supports Bell, said he would contact Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office Tuesday to seek guidance, adding he did not know what that would be.
The divisions among the council were on display early in the meeting when members argued over an effort to rearrange the agenda.
“I had several city council members come to me to change the meeting agenda, even the city manager, to benefit them,” Councilman Derrick Collins said. “No, no, no, we’re going to air this out. Since you all want to play this game. You want to keep playing this game.”
There were also concerns expressed regarding the number of open positions in the city. Muskegon Heights is currently lacking a finance manager, an assessor and a human resources department. An outside accounting firm said it spent months reconciling the books.
At the same time, frustrated residents are trying to reconcile a reported $1 million in special assessment fees that the city manager added to their winter tax bill. Christine Robertson said the winter bill she usually gets for a vacant lot is $98 to cover taxes. This year, the city asked for $2,000. The city wanted her to pay a prior owner’s old unpaid water bill.
“Would you want to pay someone else’s bill? Why would they charge it to me? And actually I’m on a fixed income,” she said.
Troy Bell began his tenure as Muskegon Heights city manager in early 2020. The council suspended Bell for two weeks in July 2020 over his handling of a contract with a communications technology vendor and matters surrounding Bell’s pay.
Watt, Jenkins and Councilman Marshal Cook voted to renew Bell’s contract. Council members Collins, Kellie Kitchen, McGlothin and Andre Williams voted not to renew.
*Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified one of the council members based on an outdated list that still exists on the city’s website. We regret the error, which has been fixed.