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Jeff Mihelich

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Bozeman city commissioners have picked a Colorado city administrator to be the top boss in city hall.

The Bozeman City Commission unanimously voted to hire Jeff Mihelich as Bozeman’s next city manager.

Mihelich has been deputy city manager and chief operating officer in Fort Collins, Colorado, since 2014. He has more than 28 years of work experience in city management and community planning, including 13 years of top-level management in which he worked with elected officials.

Commissioners said they picked Mihelich because of his experience in leading cities when it comes to affordable housing issues, climate action policies and transportation planning, among others. City commissioners also said he has led towns larger than Bozeman that are growing at a fast pace.

“If you’re going to ask for a guide to bring you into territory you’ve never been before, it’s helpful to have someone who’s been there before,” Commissioner Terry Cunningham said.

The city manager is the only city employee that commissioners hire, fire and oversee. The manager is the top administrator in city hall, charged with seeing through the policies commissioners set.

Mihelich still has to officially accept the offer. According to the employee contract, Mihelich would begin May 26.

Commissioners said Mihelich came on the higher end of what they were willing to pay their next hire and said the goal was to keep him around.

Mihelich would make a base salary of $183,000 in his first year in Bozeman, with a $10,000 increase on May 26, 2021. That’s a leap from the $158,500 base pay of Bozeman’s last city manager.

Mihelich would also receive up to $24,000 a year as a housing allowance and $6,000 toward transportation costs.

Commissioners said Mihelich’s most recent job put him as the second-in-charge in Fort Collins, which has a population of 167,800.

Before moving to Colorado, Mihelich worked for the city of Surprise, Arizona, from 2008 to 2014.

In his application, Mihelich wrote he has worked in places that have experienced challenges and opportunities similar to what Bozeman is facing. He said that, and the broad breadth of job responsibilities, is what drove him to apply to work for Bozeman.

“There are very few, if any, new career opportunities that I am interested in pursuing,” Mihelich wrote in his application. “The City Manager position with Bozeman, Montana is the exception.”

Interim City Manager Dennis Taylor said the city of Bozeman will likely continue to grow, despite the economic stall tied to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“He’s also had the opportunity to deal with recession,” Taylor said, citing Mihelich’s time in Arizona beginning in 2008.

Of 83 people who applied for the job and the four finalists commissioners interviewed, Mihelich is the sole candidate the city publicly announced.

City officials said they would make the semi-finalists a public process, but said they opted not to release the list of finalists as they had to change the process in response to COVID-19. Commissioners also said Mihelich stood out as their top pick.

The day after the city announced Mihelich as the finalist, the city had a citizen and staff panel each interview the candidate. Interim City Manager Dennis Taylor said the feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Bozeman Mayor Chris Mehl said the filling the role is one of the most important jobs the commission has.

“If all goes well, this hire will outlast all of us on the board,” Mehl said.

The city has been without a permanent manager since Andrea Surratt left the position in December after roughly two years on the job.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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