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Benton Harbor’s new emergency manager will work in “dog years” to hand over local control

Benton Harbor’s incoming emergency financial manager says he’ll work quickly on a plan to put the city in the black.

Tony Saunders II says no kid aspires to grow up to be an emergency financial manager, but he’s excited about the opportunity. He’s 26-years old, expecting his first child in April. But he says people should consider his experience working in Detroit and Highland Park, not his age.

“I’m not worried about my age and I don’t think others will once they have a chance to meet me and see the pace that I’m willing to work at,” Saunders said.

He doesn’t technically start until February 1st, but he says he'll head to Benton Harbor this week to check things out.

“What I’m really trying to get a hold of is the people behind the numbers there. You know I’ve read the numbers for the last couple of weeks in Benton Harbor but it really doesn’t tell the complete story,” Saunders said.

Saunders says he’ll work in “dog years”, a mantra of Governor Rick Snyder’s, so he can turn control back over to elected city leaders.

“This isn’t an ideal situation for a community to face and I don’t want to pretend it is. So if we don’t work fast that means the longer I’m there which also means the longer the local government there isn’t in control of their own destiny,” Saunders said.

Saunders will replace outgoing emergency financial manager Joe Harris. Harris made improvements in his nearly three years running Benton Harbor. But personality differencesbetween Harris and elected leaders led to his departure. Last week, Harris called it "bittersweet."

Saunders says restoring that relationship with city commission will be one of his top priorities.

“They have some great ideas and hopefully we can implement them into any plan we put together,” Saunders said.

Saunders has a bachelors’ degree in economics from the University of Michigan. He’s worked for the Treasury Department since last April as an advisor to the City of Highland Park. He also served as Chief of Staff for Detroit City Council Member Saunteel Jenkins and a Senior Advisor to Council President Charles Pugh. Saunders is a partner at WYLD Marketing Group.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the community, the people there and their willingness for change and their hunger for progress. I hope to be a small part of that and I look forward to working with them to move the city forward,” Saunders said.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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