Meet new Middletown city manager Jim Palenick: ‘I do this because I care’

Jim Palenick will begin his duties as Middletown’s new city manager on July 13, 2020. He was selected for the position following a nationwide search. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Jim Palenick will begin his duties as Middletown’s new city manager on July 13, 2020. He was selected for the position following a nationwide search. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

One thing that Jim Palenick wants Middletown residents to know is that he’s approachable.

“I do this because I care,” said the newly named Middletown city manager. “I’ll listen and I’ll try to help in some way.”

Palenick, 60, was officially hired as the new city manager last week. Most recently the city administrator in Racine, Wis., he will begin his new job on July 13.

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Palenick, who has more than 30 years of experience in different city management and economic development roles in four states (Ohio will be his fifth state to work in), said he “tends to be the guy who has a vision and is able to get others to believe in it, buy in to it and make it come to be.”

As for his management style, Palenick said he’s “collaborative, but demanding and sets high standards. I’m not a micro-manager, but I support my people and let them do their job.”

He has managed full-service cities that have also included municipally owned golf courses and a downtown arena. In three communities, he has managed cities with general aviation airports and has dealt with fixed-based operators and hangar leases, issues that Middletown also faces.

Palenick is also a believer in intergovernmental agreements, which he said is “critically important.”

“It’s a win for both parties because you are sharing the sacrifice,” he said. “You mitigate sacrifice by making a sacrifice.”

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Born in southwest Michigan (he remains a Detroit Lions fan), where his father worked 43 years in a factory making universal joints for trucks, he could not imagine himself being a factory worker. While he was in high school, Palenick interviewed his hometown’s city manager and discovered he had an interest in city government.

“It’s so different because no two days are ever alike. It’s challenging and fulfilling,” he said. “I think it’s about making the community better. If not, then I haven’t done my job.”

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Palenick said he applied for the Middletown position because the city manager works with a city council, and the smaller council is “smart, engaged and committed with a cohesive vision that was very appealing” to him.

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He said some of his notable accomplishments include leading efforts to redevelop the riverfront in Bay City, Mich., develop a downtown with an arena as its cornerstone in Rio Rancho, N.M., and redevelop brownfields following the recession in Gastonia, N.C. Palenick said he sees a lot of parallels between Gastonia, an old textile mill and manufacturing town, and Middletown.

While serving as Gastonia’s economic development director, Palenick worked to transform a three-acre backup reservoir for the city water plant in an underserved neighborhood into a park with buildings, a 1.7-mile walking trail and fishing docks.

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When he’s not working, Palenick likes to be outdoors walking, hiking and biking. He said he is looking forward to riding on the Great Miami River Recreation Trail that runs through Middletown.

Palenick also likes to travel in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico. He also enjoys cooking, especially Italian, Chinese and Mexican dishes. His signature dishes are green chili enchilada and a stir fry, he said.

His family includes his fiancee, a 26-year-old son who lives in Washington, D.C. and two brothers who live in Michigan.

Middletown City Managers

1956 to 2019

Charlie Thompson, March 1956-March 1964

Dan Kothe, June 1964-September 1970

Dale Helsel, October 1970-May 1985

William Burns, October 1985-January 1988

William Klosterman, July 1988-August 1992

Ron Olsen, November 1992-November 2004

William Becker, March 2005-March 2007

Judith Gilleland, January 2008-July 2014

Douglas Adkins, July 2014-Dec. 17, 2019.

James M. Palenick, July 13, 2020

SOURCE: City of Middletown

Jim Palenick’s public administration career

Palenick has more than 30 years of professional experience and has served in the following positions:

  • City Manager, city of Middletown, Ohio, July 13, 2020
  • City Administrator, city of Racine, Wis., 2017-2020
  • Director of Economic & Business Development, city of Fayetteville, N.C., 2016-2017
  • Town Manager, city of Dallas, N.C., 2012-2016
  • City Manager, city of Gastonia, N.C., 2007-2011
  • City Manager, city of Rio Rancho, N.M., 2003-2006
  • City Manager, city of Bay City, Mich., 1996-2002
  • City Manager, city of Dowagiac, Mich., 1992-1996
  • Village Manager, village of Dexter, Mich., 1987-1992

Palenick earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and economics from Western Michigan University in 1981, graduating summa cum laude. He also earned a master’s degree in public administration, with honors, in 1987, also from Western Michigan University.

Middletown City Council approved an indefinite contract with Palenick that is renewable annually. His new salary will be $160,000, and a raise to $165,000 is built in pending successful completion of his first year.

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