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Published: 2/27/2006

Longtime Adrian lawyer to become administrator

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Nelson Nelson
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ADRIAN - After 25 years as city attorney, Dane Nelson is moving onward. And upward.

Adrian's Board of Commissioners has chosen Mr. Nelson, 56, as the city's new administrator. He replaces George Brown, who resigned in November.

"I'm excited about the challenge," Mr. Nelson said. "It's a big change for me. But it's a great opportunity, and I have a lot of ideas."

The city has been through a rough stretch over the past 14 months.

In December, 2004, police Chief Mike Martin resigned after trial evidence for numerous cases went missing during a reorganization. Soon after, city commissioner and former Mayor Eric Sullivan resigned without explanation.

Then, a few weeks later, Mr. Brown was reprimanded by City Council for an incident involving the Martin investigation. Two city commissioners called for Mr. Brown's resignation. Though he initially survived that fight - former Mayor Sam Rye and three other commissioners killed an effort to seek his resignation. November's election replaced three of Mr. Brown's supporters. Mr. Brown resigned soon afterward.

Al Smith, another former mayor and the city administrator Mr. Brown replaced in 1998, has been serving as interim administrator since Mr. Brown's departure.

The city received 42 applicants for the position, but once Mr. Nelson said he was interested, he quickly became the favorite. At issue for many was the fact that Mr. Martin and Mr. Brown were outsiders perceived to have failed.

"I had an overwhelming number of e-mails and phone calls from citizens [supporting him] because he's a known quantity," said Gary McDowell, a former city commissioner who won the mayor's race in November.

Mr. Nelson, who was raised in Adrian, was one of three finalists interviewed. The other two, Michael Czymbor, former Milan, Mich., administrator, and Daniel Bishop, former assistant city manager in Sterling Heights, Mich., had more experience as city managers, but Mr. Nelson won every commissioner's vote but one. Mike Osborn supported Mr. Bishop.

Mr. Nelson, who directs his own law firm, Nelson and Benz, said he was prepared to withdraw from consideration if circumstances warranted such a decision.

"I did indicate [to the commissioners] that if they were able to find a strong candidate who was a better fit, they should hire that person. I would have been more than happy to continue what I'm doing," he said.

In the end, Mr. McDowell and most of the commission preferred the local guy.

"As the city attorney, he's been intimately involved in all the decisions made by the city. It's almost as if he's been a commissioner. It will be a short learning curve," Mr. McDowell said.

Commissioner Barb Mitzel concurs.

"[Dane] understands the issues, the vision, and what we need to do to continue to grow our city," she said.

Mr. Nelson said his lack of experience as a city administrator - he'll have about 150 employees working for him and oversee a multimillion dollar budget - should not be an issue.

"We have 12 department heads who will do most of the work," he said. "[Also], I know the city as well as anybody and have a good relationship with many people in the community. My strength is getting things done."

Mr. Nelson said his immediate goals include improving customer service at city hall, and continuing the city's efforts to improve its downtown and its infrastructure.

"There are many things we've started but haven't finished. We have a priority list, and we need to start knocking those off," he said.

Mr. Nelson's employment terms have yet to be decided, Ms. Mitzel said. Mr. Nelson won't begin his duties until he closes his law office. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith will continue as interim administrator.

Contact George Tanber at: gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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