EDITOR’S NOTE: On March 13, East Grand Rapids city officials announced that Emmanuel Toribio decided not to accept the job as city manager. In a statement, Toribio said he determined “Michigan was not the best option for my young family at this time.”
Emmanuel “Manny” Toribio has been chosen as the next city manager of East Grand Rapids following the retirement of Brian Donovan, who served in the position for 25 years. Currently, Toribio is the assistant director of facilities planning and management at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Before that, he served for three years as city administrator for Prairie City, Iowa, and six years as city planner for Des Moines. His tenure in East Grand Rapids will begin later this month. As a new West Michigan transplant, Toribio said he’d like to focus on economic development, master planning and staying within budget.
What attracted you to this position, as well as Michigan?
The opportunity to get to visit Michigan started when I was out in Lansing visiting for an opportunity there. At that time, I got a chance to see what Michigan had and the similarities it had with Iowa. When I heard about the opening in East Grand Rapids from the Michigan Municipal League, everything from the brochure to just getting online and looking at their website, understanding everything that’s going on in Grand Rapids, looking at opportunities to be part of the events going on — it had a lot of similarities to Des Moines and felt like it would be a great place to raise a family.
How can your work as a university official translate to managing a city?
Managing a bigger budget and bigger staff would add to my skills coming from a smaller city. (Working at Drake) was a good chance to get in line with the operation side of things, what happens in the field and the continued need for deferred maintenance — everything from sidewalk improvements to building improvements. That’s something that could translate to a city that’s looking to grow. (East Grand Rapids) is looking for smart growth. They would like to see some growth within the Gaslight Village; what that looks like is still up for discussion. They are also working with the community and planning/zoning on the development of housing. When you’re in a community surrounded by another community, you’ve got to be very methodical and strategic that you’re being considerate of your neighbors.
How will you approach your first years as city manager?
I would want to echo what the mayor and commissioners have stated: to understand what housing needs there are with our current stock, and whether there’s opportunity for some new housing stock, and what that looks like for families starting off or retiring. From there, (I’d like to) keep working with the school system. They have a new superintendent, so working with that relationship and whether there’s any cost sharing that can be had. Finally, (I’d like to) work with the master plan. Part of the development of commercial and possible residential is doing a streetscape that goes right through Gaslight Village, and what that has to do with safety and aesthetics.
How will you approach economic development?
To me, it starts with developing relationships, listening and learning about the relationships that are there with existing developers or new developers coming in, and understanding what their requests are and our abilities to meet those requests. It’s understanding the impact it’ll have on the community, and communicating that to the residents so they have a chance to have a voice, and making sure we’re not just driving the car around without the backing of the community. (We want) to have economic development go in the direction they want it to.
As someone recruited to Michigan from outside the state, what do you see as the city’s role in attracting talent?
What’s happening across the whole state is people are looking for innovative ways to bring young, talented and skilled people into their communities. People need to understand what the community has to offer, what the neighborhoods are like, what the schools are like. One of the things that resonates with me in talking with the city attorney and mayor is the staff has done a great job. Hopefully we work toward making sure they are getting opportunities to continue their education, grow their skillset and we do succession planning for the future as well.
Interview conducted and condensed by Sydney Smith.