Following lengthy discussions with the city's labor counsel, former Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus joined city commissioners on their Zoom call during their meeting on Monday, November 9, and verbally hashed out final sticking points for a labor contract that upon completion will bring Markus back as city manager, effective January 1, 2021.
Attorney Gouri Sashital of Keller Toma reported to commissioners that she had spoken to Markus following their direction with their proposed employment terms. “He is interested in a three-year contract with options to renew,” she said. “He indicated he would be available to start January 1, 2021, and he would be willing to transition a week early to shadow (outgoing) city manager Joe Valentine.”
She reported Markus requested an annual salary of $160,000, which commissioners noted was less than what he earned when he last worked for the city 10 years ago. As for benefits, Markus receives Medicare and is already a Birmingham retiree, and requested continuation of the Medicare supplemental. He requested 15 vacation/sick/personal days banked, with an accrual of an additional 25 days per year, a $500 monthly automobile allowance, and reimbursement of moving expenses of up to $15,000.
Regarding termination, Markus requested notice of 90 days if he is the one to end the contract, and 30 days if the commission were to end the contract, or until the commission hires a replacement, Sashital said. He asked for 12 months of severance if he is terminated without cause.
Commissioners generally felt Markus' requests were reasonable, but some had issues with the length of the contract. Commissioners Clinton Baller, Therese Longe and Brad Host all sought a maximum two-year contract, as they were interested in pursuing a national search for a city manager who, in Baller's words, “could take us into, well into, the 21st century.”
Baller suggested hiring Markus for two years as city manager, and then “carving out some role for him, but not as city manager.”
Longe said she had viewed Markus as a bridge appointment, overlapping with a search for a city manager and an assistant city manager. She noted that usually the commission doesn't have control over who is hired as assistant city manager, and wanted assurance that it would be treated like a city manager search.
Commissioner Mark Nickita noted that “two to three years years goes very quickly. There are some significant gaps that will take a lot of time to fill.”
In recent months, Valentine has resigned, as has the assistant city manager, clerk, with a new clerk designee hired, engineer, assistant engineer and human resources manager.
“The difference between two years and three years is a year. Maybe we can compromise at 30 months,” Markus suggested to the commission. “You have a number of positions that need some immediate attention. While I'm interested in the assistant city manager and getting that on board and trained where they could be considered a candidate when you go to a national search,” he said it should not be considered an automatic promotion. As for the “advise and consent” requested, “It's a city manager's job.”
As for starting a national search, he cautioned the commission, “I've watched searches. Because of COVID, they're taking much longer that what we've dealt with. They're going into second rounds; they're adding three, four, five months. And trying to select a candidate through Zoom is a challenge in and of itself. Inside candidates tend to move into operations during this very stressful period of life we're experiencing.”
Commissioners voted 6-1, with commissioner Brad Host dissenting, to direct the labor attorney to prepare terms of a contract for 2.5 years.
“I want to thank the commission for their support and I look forward to joining you in January, “ Markus said.
“I look forward to finalizing the agreement and formally welcoming you,” mayor Pierre Boutros said.