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Madison Heights

City Council approves contract for new city manager

February 20, 2013

MADISON HEIGHTS — At their regular meeting Feb. 11, all but one councilmember approved the contract for the new city manager of Madison Heights, effective March 1.

The current city manager, Jon Austin, will retire Feb. 28, having served the community for 21 years — the longest tenure of any city manager in the history of Madison Heights.

Austin’s successor, Ben Myers, the current deputy city manager, has 25 years of experience in municipal management, including 20 years of service in Madison Heights. Among his most important duties has been running the Department of Public Services.

Myers was selected as Austin’s successor at the end of November, following some debate among councilmembers as to whether they should interview more candidates, in the interest of thoroughness.

In the end, the prevailing opinion was that Myers — the sole candidate to apply — more than satisfied the minimum requirements for the position. His familiarity with the community was also seen as an advantage.

Now Myers’ contract has been finalized. It includes an annual base salary of $121,542, which excludes five unpaid holidays, reducing the annual compensation to $119,187 — the same as the departing city manager.

When it came time to approve the contract, the lone dissenting vote on council was City Councilman Brian Hartwell.

“Although I wanted a different route here, I’m really happy that City Council appointed Mr. Myers,” Hartwell said. “With that, though, I think this compensation package is a little too generous.”

He noted that, while annual compensation for city managers can go as high as $200,000 in some cities, he has seen them as low as $70,000 in others.

“We’ve made great strides not inflating our salaries in some of our labor groups,” Hartwell said. “I wish we could (also) contain the salary of the city manager.”

Myers and his family will receive health, optical, dental and orthodontic insurance, as well as retiree medical coverage, disability and workers compensation insurance, all equal to the department heads. The same applies to other benefits, such as longevity pay, personal leave, sick leave, pension, holidays, disability and more.

To cover wear and tear on his personal automobile, due to extensive travel during and outside of normal work hours, Myers will also receive an automobile allowance of $475 per month. This is paid in lieu of mileage or other forms of reimbursement.

Other benefits include five weeks and two days of vacation time a year, and the city reimbursing or directly paying for all of his employment-related expenses, including travel, lodging, meals and more.

Hartwell was also wary of perks such as the monthly $475 automobile allowance, questioning whether such was necessary with a six-figure salary. He also wanted a clause clearly preventing the city manager from influencing negotiations in regards to department head benefits, which in turn equal the city manager’s own benefits.  

“I’m voting no … not because of the man, but (because) I believe this contract is too generous,” Hartwell concluded.

Mayor Pro Tem Robert Corbett said he respectfully disagrees with Hartwell.

“I don’t want the public to walk away thinking that, in any way, shape, or form, this is an inflated contract, because it is not,” Corbett said.

He said it was pointless to compare the wages and benefits of city managers in other municipalities, since other municipalities have different restrictions on their finances.  

“More importantly, we are not talking about someone who just walked in off the street,” Corbett said. “We’re talking about someone who has … years of preparation for the job, who has been … specifically the deputy city manager.

“I think (we’re) balancing the needs of a qualified candidate with the fact we’re Madison Heights — we’re not some other community — and I think it’s an appropriate contract,” he said.    

The contract passed. City Councilman Bob Gettings said he is pleased to see Myers become the next city manager, despite some initial hesitation.

“At first, I was not in favor so much of going with Mr. Myers, and this isn’t against Mr. Myers, but it’s just that there are a lot of people out there we didn’t interview,” Gettings said. But then, “I received a phone call from one person who I respect very highly, and this person indicated to me we have a proven commodity here, someone who has proven himself for going on 20 years.

“That was the reason I voted to appoint Mr. Myers to take over for Mr. Austin, and I think when you weigh everything, that’s very important, because we could’ve spent money going out looking for someone else, and it might’ve taken them a year or two to get in the groove, if you would,” he said. “If you have a proven commodity, you should go with it. … I think we made the right decision.”

About the author

Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski covers Madison Heights, Hazel Park, Madison District Public Schools, Lamphere Public Schools and Hazel Park Public Schools for the Madison-Park News.

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