Despite an inaccurate email campaign sent by a city commission candidate alleging an inappropriate severance package as part of the employment contract extension for Birmingham City Manager Joe Valentine, at their meeting on Monday, October 28, city commissioners approved the contract extension and benefits package, with both commissioners and members of the public noting he is underpaid compared to the marketplace.
A resolution to approve the amendment to the city manager's employment agreement had been included on the agenda's consent agenda, after having been discussed in closed session, meaning approval was administrative. That was in keeping with city commission history, whether for Valentine, or previous city managers, such as Tom Markus or Bob Bruner, city commissioner Stuart Sherman pointed out.
However, because of a widely circulated email sent out by commission candidate and gadfly Clinton Baller asserting Valentine was getting a “golden parachute,” mayor pro tem Pierre Boutros, who was leading the meeting in mayor Patty Bordman's absence, wanted to table the resolution until a future meeting when there were seven commissioners in attendance. Commissioner Rackeline Hoff was also absent. Other commissioners disagreed, feeling the matter should be discussed and voted on.
The approved one-year amendment to Valentine's contract increased his compensation to $134,487.10 from $130,570, a three percent raise; a retirement contribution of deferred compensation of $5,000; and an amendment to the termination provision to 24 months, from six months. The compensation was retroactive to July 1, 2019.
“Our job is to make decisions,” Sherman pointed out, as well as noting that delaying the matter to a future meeting could be a hardship for members of the public who had come to the meeting to speak on the matter.
“Considering it's an administerial decision, it does not matter if there are five or seven commissioners,” said commissioner Mark Nickita.
Commissioner Andy Harris concurred. “This is an administerial decision, and it sets a terrible precedent.”
Sherman explained that this was not the first amendment done to the city manager's contract. “It's done almost every year,” he said. “After having been through two searches, we know what the market is, we know that our city manager is not being compensated as much as comparable city managers. Based on Michigan Municipal League (MML) and other contracts across the state, the severance where a city manager is fired in violation of the contract – not for cause – is one to three years. We took the middle. This only applies if the city breaches the contract, not if the manager leaves.”
A golden parachute is an agreement between a company and an employee specifying that an employee will receive certain significant benefits if employment is terminated, and usually refers to an employee exit in the private business market, often the result of a takeover or merger.
“Tom Markus – his severance was very similar to this,” Nickita noted. “There is a precedence. It's something we have studied at great length, and across the state. Joe is near seven years as city manager, and many, many years with the city, and that is a tenured position according to the MML.”
Valentine has been with the city of Birmingham for 23 years, having begun as an intern, and worked his way up as city manager.
Sherman said that after Markus left the city after 22 years as city manager, they changed the severance because “we didn't know what we were getting. This is bringing it back into line with where we had been.”
“I want to emphasize that this city manager is worth more than this compensation package and I wholeheartedly support this motion,” Harris said.
“Some people misplace their disapproval with policy on the city manager, instead of the city commission,” said commissioner Carroll DeWeese. “The city manager position is apolitical. If there is a political disagreement, you should have it with the city commission.”
Commissioners approved the employment contract amendment, 5-0.