(This is the sixth in a large series of profile stories planned for 2023 to introduce the Chelsea community to the folks who keep it humming each day. We want you to learn more about Chelsea as a community — as told through the eyes, ears and voices of many different people.)
By Lisa Allmendinger
Chelsea City Manager Roy Atkinson has always had a genuine interest in and love of government.
In fact, he called himself “a self-professed city government nerd,” in his application letter to the city for the manager’s job last April.
“When I was little, I was always interested in current events and reading the news,” he says.
In college, Atkinson studied political science and earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from Saginaw Valley State University, a Master of Arts degree in 2013 in administrative science, and a 2015 Master’s in Public Administration from Central Michigan University.
On the city job for about 10 months, Atkinson says he didn’t expect to become a city manager this quickly, but when the job opened up, he had to apply. In addition to the opportunity of becoming Chelsea’s chief administrator, moving back to Michigan was a homecoming – as his fiancee, Kesley, has family in Dexter and Atkinson is originally from Bay City.
The couple spent the last six years in Wisconsin where Atkinson was promoted to assistant city administrator in Altoona in early 2022. He says he was “involved in every level of local government functions from working on budgets, handling city communications, drafting and presenting ordinances, to managing community festivals” while there.
In addition, he served as Altoona’s management analyst for more than five years, providing administrative support and project management for the city’s administrative team.
Calling Chelsea “one of the most beautiful communities in the State of Michigan,” it wasn’t a difficult decision for Atkinson to apply for the job opening.
Fast forward to June 2022.
When asked what his first day on the job was like, Atkinson says the first few weeks were a blur. “I term it drinking out a fire hose.”
The city was in the process of finding a police chief, a community development director and a finance director, and then needed to hire a new city attorney. All key positions in the day-to-day operations of the city over which he oversees.
But, Atkinson arrived in town blessed with a loyal staff keeping operations afloat during the transition period.
In addition to the search to fill key positions, Atkinson went to work getting to know the staff, building relationships with key stakeholders and regional officials, and learning about the city’s ongoing projects.
Atkinson reports directly to the elected city council and is tasked with the daily operations of the city. At the start, he met with Mayor Jane Pacheco and a transition team weekly to get up to speed.
When asked what’s the most important part of his job, Atkinson said, “I take all duties of my job seriously and hold them in an important place. I think the most important are being a “connector/builder of relationships and keeping the financial house in order,” he says.
Since his arrival in town, Atkinson has now found a home in the city and many of the items he’s focused on are moving forward. Among them, the city has almost all of its key administrative positions filled, there is now a social media presence and firms have been hired to revamp the city’s website and upgrade the AV system in the council chambers to give residents easy access to meetings via Zoom.
He’s met with officials from surrounding townships and has begun collaborative projects.
Atkinson says, “Above all, the city has focused on building regional ties and relationships with our neighboring municipal partners and our residents.”
Since the start, he says, people have been welcoming and helpful. “Chelsea is a wonderful city that has great schools, health care, businesses, recreational amenities and geographic location that definitely work to our advantage.”
As for his management style? He says he allows the department heads to have “autonomy” and doesn’t micromanage.
“I jokingly say that a typical day for me is being everything, everywhere all at once. A lot of meetings, balancing projects and being as responsive as I can. No one day is the same.”
Atkinson says he’s a big fan of outdoor recreation having previously served as the president of the Friends of the Chippewa River State Trail and vice president of the Bike Chippewa Valley.
“I am passionate about parks/trails and everything they add to the quality of life within a given region. The plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities the Chelsea area offers makes this position very appealing and I believe there are a lot of economic opportunities also available withing this realm.”
Chelsea was recently designated as a Pure Michigan Trail Town and Atkinson is actively involved with the parks commission helping to guide the group of volunteers with city’s park projects and upgrades.
With both a dad, who worked at Saginaw Valley State University, and an aunt and uncle who worked for Kinross Correctional Facility in the UP, Atkinson is adding to a family history of public service.
And, he wanted to thank his most recent boss and mentor Mike Golet, the city administrator of Altoona, for giving him a chance and teaching him along the way. “He definitely is the key reason why I’m here today.”
When Atkinson is not running the city, he says he enjoys spending time with family and friends and traveling. A music lover, he also likes to try new restaurants, ride his bike and hike around the area. “I always enjoy doing something that is exhausting but fulfilling.”
Since arriving in Chelsea, he’s gotten a taste of the local festivals and judged the Sounds and Sights Festival car show – with more than 300 classic cars in attendance.
And, he’s experienced his first Chelsea Community Fair. “Who doesn’t love an elephant ear,” he says.
It’s safe to say although new to the city and the job, Atkinson is embracing and enjoying all of its unique challenges … all while helping to plan a wedding this year.