From the farm to the corner office: Benzie hires the first woman to lead the county | New


BEULAH – Katelyn Zeits grew up in a family of public servants.

His mother is the canton clerk; a sister is a police chief in Newaygo County – the first woman to hold this position; another sister works for the Traverse City Police Department; a nephew is a prison lieutenant; and another is a first responder on Beaver Island.

“What we were born and raised for is serving the public,” said Zeits, the first female county administrator in Benzie County and at 33, the youngest.

The youngest of nine children, Zeits grew up on a dairy farm in Fremont where chores were not split based on gender.

“There was no man or woman on the farm,” Zeits said. “We all did the same job. In our family, it didn’t matter. If you work hard enough, you can do this job.

She brings this mindset to her new job.

Zeits was hired in May as the county’s director of human resources and finance. She was from Traverse City, where she worked for 10 years as an administrative specialist and later as an assistant clerk, a position she held for about seven years. She holds a master’s degree in public administration with a specialization in local government management.

Five of the 23 people who applied for the director position were interviewed, including Zeits. Others were Joel C. Johnson, former state official and owner of a feed and farm supplies business; Caroline Kennedy, assistant village director and clerk for Elk Rapids; William D. Kennis, executive director of the Benzie Transportation Authority; and Coury Carland, procurement consultant at Networks Northwest and former commissioner of Benzie.

Bob Roelofs, chairman of the Benzie County Commission, said Zeits’ age was not a factor in considering her for the job.

“Are we concerned about his experience in the field of work?” Roelofs said. “Not really. When you look at her school background and the way she communicates, she blew them all up. She was a cut above.

Zeits replaces Mitch Deisch, who retired on Friday after a 33-year career in public service, the last six in Benzie County.

“I’m super excited about Katie,” Deisch said. “She’s going to do a smash job. The county is not going to miss a beat.

Zeits is paid $ 77,000 per year and has a three-year contract. She was approved for the position on a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Art Jeannot and Gary Sauer voting against hiring her.

Jeannot said he preferred Johnson, who has an economic development background and would complete the county administrative team.

“It really had little to do with Katie qualifying for the job,” Jeannot said. “I’m in his corner and will do whatever it takes to help him succeed. I think she will do a good job.

Zeits holds a master’s degree in public administration. She participated in the new 16/50 project proposed by the Michigan Municipal League, which aims to bring women to the most coveted municipal positions. The name 16/50 is based on the fact that while women make up 50 percent of the state’s population, they make up only 16 percent of local administrative directors.

Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 66 are headed by a director, manager or executive, according to information from the Michigan Association of Counties. Of these senior positions, 18 are held by women. Of the remaining counties, a dozen list the county clerk as administrator.

Zeits said a woman’s management style may be different from a man’s because a woman’s biological makeup is not the same. Women are wired differently and think differently, she said.

“For so long, they’ve been the assistant or that sort of thing,” Zeits said. “It is recognized that women are very smart, they are very capable… so we have to help push women to the top. This is the world we live in.

Zeits has three boys, aged 4, 2 and 1. She said she was blessed because she shares parenting responsibilities with her husband Ben Zeits. But often women are the ones who find daycare with a family or pick up the children from school or take them to the doctor, she said. They can feel that these responsibilities conflict and they can fail, she said.

“In fact, it’s good to do these things because you can still be successful,” she said. “Women need to realize that they can be just as good at something, even though they have all of these other responsibilities. It doesn’t matter if they have to take a child to a doctor’s appointment, they will still be successful in their job.

Zeits describes himself as a person of action, someone who thinks outside the box and listens to the ideas of others and how those ideas can be implemented to make things more efficient.

“We have to do what’s wiser with our dollars because they come from taxpayers,” she said. “We want taxpayers to have confidence that we are providing the services they need… so I’m always thinking about how we can do it better so that we can stretch that money a little bit more. “

Its objectives include the restructuring of the administrative office. She will continue to take care of financial tasks, such as budget preparation, and she has already hired an administrative assistant who will run the office and “keep the pace,” she said.

She will also hire an HR professional, something Benzie never had. They will perform the traditional duties of the post, but much more, she said.

“They’re really going to be responsible for helping to build those relationships, to build that trust, to build a positive organizational culture,” Zeits said. “I want Benzie County to be a place where people want to work, like Traverse City. People still want to work in Traverse City, so I want to work here.

The county created a CFO position in 2018 as part of a strategic plan that called for closer financial oversight. Susan Boyd was hired for the job but left in January after less than three years.

Meridee Cutler, the deputy county administrator, also left earlier this year. Both have taken positions elsewhere.

Other goals include updating and digitizing the payroll process, creating a plan for how the American Rescue Plan Act money will be spent, resolving some budget issues, such as Funding for Animal Control after a deadline has been passed to get a thousand renewal on the ballot, and make the prison self-sufficient.

The prison is supported by a thousand voters, but is still subsidized by the general fund to the tune of approximately $ 450,000.

“Half a million dollars a year is not sustainable for the county,” Zeits said.

Zeits said her end goal was always to be a county administrator or city manager. Traverse City was really good to her and she grew professionally and personally during her stay, she said. But she got to a point where she hit a wall.

“I was always going to be the Assistant Clerk and wanted more than that,” she said.

She applied for the position of Head of Human Resources and Finance at Benzie, not only because it was a growth opportunity for her, but because she wanted to serve the Benzie community, where she has lived for the past six years. When the administrator position opened, she launched.

One of the things she learned from the 16/50 project is that women don’t apply for these positions because they don’t meet all the qualifications on the list and think they aren’t good enough.

“While I might not have sticked to all the points in this job description, I thought, you know what, I’m going to give it a try because maybe I am that person. And it turns out I was.


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