County administrator says she’s ‘creating history’ and ready for the challenge

Michelle Ripley-Crombie, a 15-year veteran of Portage County government, will start as the county’s first full-time administrator on June 1, a position that places her at the helm of an operation that spends $120 million a year on public services.

As county administrator, Ripley-Crombie will act as a conduit between the directors of the various county departments and the three elected commissioners, bringing proposals to the table and taking policy decisions back to her staff.

Portage County previously experimented with a part-time administrator — Gene Roberts, who served from April 2020 until earlier this year — but there was simply too much work.

Commissioners formally approved Ripley-Crombie’s hire on Thursday, saying the efficiencies she will bring to the decision-making process justify the $98,696 salary, which interim budget director David Lair said is typical for the role in a county this size.

“Her job is to set the priorities of the department heads and bring that information to us in clear form so we understand what’s going on and the directors still have access to us,” Commissioner Tony Badalamenti said.

Among a field of 14 applicants, commissioners said Ripley-Crombie impressed them with her vision of embracing the county’s multi-generational workforce, encouraging succession planning and recruitment, analyzing processes to make changes where necessary, and overhauling the onboarding process.

“I am very passionate about Portage County,” Ripley-Crombie said in an interview with The Portager. “I believe in our employees. I have been working with them for a number of years. I have literally worked with every department, with every elected official. I’m looking forward to entering this next chapter of my life and really building upon ‘Team Portage County.’”

Ripley-Crombie holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health, a master’s degree in public administration and has further training in risk management. 

Since 2012 she has served as procurement contract risk manager for Portage County’s Internal Services Department. Prior to that, she served as safety and loss control coordinator in the county’s Human Resources Department, a post she kept for six years until moving to Internal Services. Until 1999 she worked in the private sector.

“I also look at it as another step toward breaking that glass ceiling in government,” Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett said. “The county government tends to be very male dominated. I’m excited that we will finally have a female administrator.”

Ripley-Crombie agreed the commission was “creating history.”

“I’m very proud of them because they chose a woman,” she said.

Commissioners considered a field of 14 applicants. Besides Ripley-Crombie, the only other interviewee was Randall Roberts, head of the Portage County Building Department. Ripley-Crombie will face a performance review in a year and will receive a 5% raise “if warranted,” Commissioner Vicki Kline said.

Ripley-Crombie is not fazed by the thought of having multiple bosses who don’t always agree.

“It will be a bit of a challenge to get all three on the same page, but I believe I’m up for it because it will be my task to be the conduit between all three of them and then bring that message to our employees,” she said.

Returning to a post-Covid normal, whatever that turns out to be, is another challenge Ripley-Crombie foresees.

“I believe communication is key to any success, whether it be employment, or friendship, anything,” she said. “It’s going to be whether I communicate one on one with each of them and then bring all their thoughts together, and then go from there. I think the key is to communicate with each of them and to understand exactly where it is that they’re coming from and what they want to see done.”