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Sterling Heights

December 20, 2013

Vanderpool to stay on as CM — with a raise

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

A one-time salary increase and a new employment contract will keep Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool in charge of city operations, according to the City Council.

At a Dec. 17 meeting, the council voted 7-0 to ratify the contract proposal, which replaces the one that would have normally expired after June 30, the end of the city’s fiscal year.

Mayor Richard Notte called the deal a fair agreeement.

“We also have assurances Mr. Vanderpool will be here for five years,” Notte said. “Not too many city managers sign a contract, (a) five-year contract, and actually, we don’t have to give him any raises in that five years.”

Officials said the city retains the option to dismiss Vanderpool, or he could resign on his own.

City officials have credited Vanderpool for playing a part in stabilizing the city after the 2008 economic crisis, which led to a plummeting stock market, a bankrupt Chrysler LLC and steep drops in tax revenues.

For instance, in a city memo, Assistant City Manager and Human Resources Director Walt Blessed credited Vanderpool’s administration for drawing up a six-year financial plan that preserved essential city services.

The contract developments arose after Vanderpool announced Dec. 4 that he had withdrawn his candidacy from a list of people vying to take over the village manager position in Skokie, Ill. — a city that he worked for between 1993 and 2004.

Blessed’s memo stated that Vanderpool’s current salary no longer competes with the pay of other communities’ managers. Vanderpool’s 2013 salary, listed at $137,217, is about $12,000 lower on average, compared to similar communities’ managers, the memo said.

The city added that Vanderpool doesn’t get retiree health benefits or a fixed pension — the city pitches in to a “retirement and health care savings account similar to a 401(k) plan.” 

As a result, the city voted to increase his annual pay by $16,500 to a new total of $153,717 per year.

During public comments, both supporters and critics of the new contract spoke.

Resident Linda Godfrey criticized the city’s handling of the issue by saying the residents had inadequate information about specifics in the deal, such as Vanderpool’s benefits. Among other things, she opposed paying him for 11 holidays, and she said she wanted the contract’s effective date to be changed from Dec. 18 to when his last contract was supposed to expire — July 1, 2014.

She also criticized the timing of the proposed raise.

“Folks, we just had a millage increase,” she said. “And what’s the first big thing that you put up here — Mr. Vanderpool gets a raise. Why?”

In explaining their views, council members said Vanderpool will continue to bring stability to Sterling Heights, and a search for a new manager would come with its own expenses.

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said “the timing for this couldn’t be worse” in light of the recently passed public safety millage, but she said keeping Vanderpoool and giving him the raise is in the best interests of an estimated 130,000 residents.

She also said it would be hard to find a replacement, and she referenced city officials’ concerns that major turnover could happen among City Hall department leadership because they will have incentives to leave in 2015.

“Who are we going to attract to a city when we tell them that our directors … most of them, are going to be leaving in 18 months?” Ziarko said.

After the vote, Vanderpool thanked the mayor, the council and the community for their support.

“I’m really honored to be city manager of this great city,” he said.

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.