Divided council approves city manager’s salary bump

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 11, 2021

 Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool gives remarks at the American Islamic Community Center’s groundbreaking in August. The Sterling Heights City Council voted 4-3 in December to approve an employment agreement that gave Vanderpool a raise.

Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool gives remarks at the American Islamic Community Center’s groundbreaking in August. The Sterling Heights City Council voted 4-3 in December to approve an employment agreement that gave Vanderpool a raise.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The year 2021 began with a raise for Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool.

During a Dec. 15 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the City Council deliberated over Vanderpool’s proposed employment agreement and approved it in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Michael Taylor, Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko, Councilwoman Maria Schmidt and Councilman Henry Yanez voted yes. Councilwoman Deanna Koski, Councilman Michael Radtke and Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski voted no.

During the meeting, City Attorney Marc Kaszubski said the employment agreement includes a raise, adding that Vanderpool has worked in Sterling Heights for over 16 years. Prior to this, Vanderpool last got a raise around 3 1/2 years ago, and his 2020 base salary was $165,000, according to Kaszubski.  

The new contract boosts Vanderpool’s base salary to $202,950, effective Jan. 1, 2021. In addition, the contract comes with an annual cost-of-living increase for inflation, based on the Consumer Price Index. It also puts in place a “more formal” annual evaluation, Kaszubski said.

Kaszubski said manager salaries in Michigan cities with larger populations include Grand Rapids at $257,500; Ann Arbor at $223,600; Troy at $167,500; and Farmington Hills at $163,200. He said the average of those figures is $202,950, and the median is $208,575 nationally for city managers in charge of a city population of 100,000-250,000, citing a survey from the International City/County Management Association.

“The city manager’s base compensation appears to now have fallen below that of the market as it pertains to other similarly situated city managers,” Kaszubski added.

When Vanderpool spoke, he said that while most city managers serve an average of five years, he has served 16 1/2 years in Sterling Heights. He thanked the city and his staff for their support, even in critical and difficult situations.

He discussed Sterling Heights’ navigation through the Great Recession of late 2008, the city’s adherence to a financial plan and the rebirth of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Sterling Heights Assembly Plant. He also discussed the  2030 visioning plan, the Recreating Recreation initiative, the Safe Streets plan, road projects for Van Dyke Avenue and Mound Road, and various awards and titles the city has received, including for public safety and financial planning.

Looking ahead, he also discussed the future of Lakeside Mall, as well as the city finishing certain municipal building renovations.

“For a city manager, these are the victories that helped define one’s professional career,” Vanderpool said. “Without a successful team approach, these victories would have been nothing more than aspirations. Together, we’ve accomplished so much, but there’s so much more to do. ...

“I hope that my passion, abilities and work ethic over the course of the past 16 1/2 years and genuine excitement for the future of this great city merit its approval.”  

Ziarko said she wished that the pay increase could have happened incrementally. But she praised Vanderpool for his mentorship abilities and his ability to foster staff growth and development, as well as his role in leading the Innovate Mound campaign’s efforts to acquire funds to reconstruct the road.

“Sometimes the best of the best is taken for granted because they make the job look easy,” she said. “I know for a fact that if this doesn’t pan out, Mr. Vanderpool is very marketable. I’m sure that he has headhunters call and talk to him all the time.”

Taylor called Vanderpool one of the nation’s finest city managers. He denied that the timing was bad, saying that such a thought is an insult.

“The timing is only bad because we should have done this years ago,” Taylor said. “So while some people might say, yeah, there’s a raging pandemic out there, and I get that.  … But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a vote ‘no’ on this contract is in any way going to help somebody out there who is struggling. It’s not.”  

Taylor noted that the city currently has around $29.2 million in fund balance money, and he noted Vanderpool’s coalition-building skills and his gravitas at the state level.

“I again shudder to think what would happen if we were to lose him,” he said. “Because one thing I think we can all agree on, looking at cities across metro Detroit, Macomb County, the cost of bad leadership is far greater than the cost of good leadership. The cost of having a bad city manager or an average city manager is a lot more than $40,000. It’s a lot more than some fabric for mile markers.”

Sierawski said comparing Sterling Heights to cities like Grand Rapids is “apples and oranges.” She said the last raise Vanderpool received was a $13,000 raise, and she said she’d be willing to do $10,000, with more to come later.

“I do really like Mark (Vanderpool). He does deserve all the accolades that he has received,” she said. “This is not the time. This is a pandemic. We still don’t know where we’re going to come out of it. All of the experts say it’s going to get much worse.”

Radtke said it’d be “tone deaf” and “hypocritical” to give the proposed raise at this time.

“During a pandemic when so many people are (unemployed), businesses are closed, it’s almost a slap in the face for us to give our highest-paid employee a $38,000 raise, which would equate to almost 23% from his prior salary,” he said.

Koski added that Vanderpool’s additional performance pay in the new contract is 3.5% of his base salary, and his deferred compensation is 2% of base, plus a retirement plan  is $22,324.50.

“Add them all up: I think I came up with $236,436,” Koski said. “He probably is worth every single penny of it. … I don’t begrudge him the money, but now is not the time to do it.”

Councilwoman Maria Schmidt said the city is lucky that Vanderpool has loyally stayed and that it would cost money to search for a new manager, should Vanderpool ever leave.

“We’re not raising taxes to give Mr. Vanderpool a raise,” Schmidt added. “In fact, Mr. Vanderpool’s raise costs each household about 30 cents, and that doesn’t even include the business taxpayers in the city.”Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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