Houghton picks Waara

HOUGHTON – The Houghton City Council announced Eric Waara as its choice to succeed retiring city manager Scott MacInnes, at its regular meeting Wednesday. Waara, a civil engineering project manager at U.P. Engineers & Architects, said he expects to take the job, and will likely start in February.

Mayor Robert Backon said during the meeting Waara was the clear choice of the personnel committee. The motion to offer him the job was approved unanimously by the council.

In a post-meeting interview, Backon said Waara had been working on city engineering projects since 1996 and “knows what’s going on in Houghton.” Also, he added, his references were exemplary.

“It just came down to knowing he’s done a good job in the past, and his knowledge of city government,” Backon said.

Backon said the city hoped Waara would be able to start Feb. 1, but wanted to allow him time to finish up his current projects with UPEA.

Waara said he’s excited about the offer, and expects to sign.

“I looked at this as an opportunity to get involved in progress on a different level than as an engineering consultant,” he said, citing Houghton’s current vitality as a prime motivation for seeking the job.

“If it wasn’t Houghton, I don’t think I’d have considered switching careers,” he said.

Waara has a lifelong connection to the area. He was born in Fulton, in Keweenaw County, and is a graduate of Michigan Technological University.

Retiring City Manager Scott MacInnes plans to remain with the city in an advisory capacity well into 2014, with the length of that stay mostly up to Waara.

MacInnes said Waara’s history of working with the city should make for an easy transition.

“We’re going to be off and running here,” MacInnes said.

Waara said he was looking forward to MacInnes’ help, and appreciated the stability of the situation he’ll be entering.

“Scott’s leaving a really good legacy here, but also some big shoes to fill,” he said.

Early priorities, Waara said, would include examining the budget to see how well resources were aligned with the city’s overall plan, and looking for ways to improve efficiency of operations.

“I don’t see anything that needs to change off the bat,” he said.

During the meeting, Backon outlined the extensive job search process that led to choosing Waara. There were originally 20 applicants, he said, and the three finalists went through multiple rounds of interviews before a choice was made.

“We began with 20, including one who was applying for city manager of Houghton Lake,” Backon said.

In other business, the council voted to exempt itself for the year from state regulations requiring public employees to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums and costs.

The state regulations allow municipalities to opt out annually if desired, and Houghton plans to continue to pay the full cost of employee insurance.