Southfield’s city administrator, James Scharret, died Jan. 9, according to Southfield Community Relations Manager Michael Manion. Scharret was 71 years old.
At press time, the cause of Scharret’s death remained unclear. Manion did note that Scharret had been in the hospital for several weeks.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss. He was a great man and a great leader,” Manion said.
According to a press release issued by the city Thursday afternoon, Scharret worked for Southfield in various roles for more than 40 years.
He began in 1974 as a research analysist and went on to be appointed as director of management and budget in 1982. By 2004, he worked as deputy city administrator and fiscal services director before taking over the role of acting city administrator two years later.
In 2008, he was appointed city administrator.
Scharret earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration at Wayne State University and master’s degree in public administration from Central Michigan University.
As Southfield’s city administrator, Scharret was responsible for the daily operations of the city, under the direction of City Council. He oversaw the delivery of city services to residents, promoted fiscal responsibility in the community, and worked to keep areas like public safety, economic development and city operations high priorities.
City Council President Sylvia Jordan called Scharret a “gentle giant” and said that in her 15 years working with him, she saw him as a man who “deeply cared” for the city, its residents and employees.
“Jim Scharret was a man of vision, wisdom and foresight. In fact, he encouraged and insisted that City Council establish parameters in limiting spending years ago and what he called ‘putting Southfield on a diet’ to reserve our fund balances,” she said. “I would dare say that he kept financially sound in the past turbulent times, which has allowed Southfield to be financially grounded today.”
Jordan noted that he was known to be just and very humble.
“Although he was the ‘boss’ of many, he never allowed his title to stop him from serving others, including those that worked for him,” she added. “I even have a deeper resolve to continue the work and not quit. … May all (those who) knew him keep the banner raised high with the standard that he set.”
Councilman Jeremy Moss said that Scharret reached out to him in his first term as the youngest-elected councilmember in 2011, to make sure he was prepared to serve and to offer his support.
“We had a weekly Sunday night call to walk me through each Monday’s council agenda to make sure that I had all of the information needed that the other council members had spent decades learning,” Moss said. “He was very patient and was clear that I could ask him any questions.”
Moss added that Scharret was known to project an example of an elected official who loved his job and the people it impacted.
“Jim was a true policy wonk and had a deep passion for implementing policy that would better people’s lives. One of his top priorities was keeping both a fully functioning Southfield Career Center and Southfield Human Services Department,” Moss explained.
“During this recession, he wanted to make sure that Southfield was a leader in putting people back to work. That’s why he painstakingly and successfully avoided any layoffs in Southfield City Hall during his tenure as city administrator. To him, avoiding layoffs was not just a finance issue, but a human issue — he didn’t want to wreck families in the midst of a recession.”
As Moss learned council material and became more comfortable in his role, he said the regular calls to prep for Monday council meetings tapered off. There was one last call, though.
“The Sunday before what would be his last City Council meeting in December, Jim called me,” Moss said. “He called me just to let me know how excited he was that the city would be accepting three grants at the next day’s council meeting to keep the Southfield Career Center fully functional. That’s the kind of guy he was. His job genuinely made him happy.”
Per the Southfield City Charter, Deputy City Administrator Fred Zorn will assume responsibility of the daily operations of Southfield, under the direction of the City Council.
In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Elizabeth Scharret Memorial Scholarship at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills are requested, as well as to the Southfield Public Library and Forgotten Harvest.
Cards may be sent to City Administration, 26000 Evergreen Road, to be forwarded to the Scharret family.
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