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Ecker’s city manager contract with city finalized

By Grace Lovins

The employment contract with Birmingham’s newly selected city manager, Jana Ecker, was finalized and approved by the city commission at their meeting on Monday, March 27, setting Ecker’s term limit for five years from her start date of July 1, 2023.

Ecker will be receiving a $175,000 salary, which city attorney Mary Kucharek noted was settled on in negotiations as she provided salary rates of other city managers in communities with viable downtowns and residents similar to Birmingham. Kucharek said that while Ecker initially demanded a much higher rate, a compromised was fashioned involving salary, severance pay and vacation time.

Part of Ecker’s benefits include a nine-month severance pay if she is terminated; $15,000 to cover relocation expenses if she decides to move to Birmingham; and 30 days of vacation per year. She will also receive a defined benefit plan as opposed to a defined contribution plan, carrying over the plan she’s had throughout her time as a city employee.

Kucharek explained that the five-year term limit is modeled from past managers and intended for stability given turnover in the past. Ecker will also be subject to annual evaluations and will also have one shortly after her start date so expectations are clear from the beginning, said Kucharek.

Referencing the profile that was published to begin the application process, commissioner Andrew Haig brought up that Ecker’s negotiated salary is 10 percent more than what was advertised in the job posting. The profile just provided a range, said city manager Tom Markus, but that doesn’t mean the pay is going to end up there.

Commissioner Brad Host questioned the negotiated salary, saying that he feels the pay is too high given Ecker has no previous city manager experience. He said that the cities Kucharek referenced as a comparison for other city manager salaries have populations much greater than Birmingham and potentially have city managers with much more experience than Ecker is bringing.

“In the art of negotiation, one party starts at one place, another party starts at another place, and you try to find a compromise in the middle, and if you’re not compromising in the middle on that particular area, you’re compromising somewhere else. For instance, severance, Jana wanted actually to be paid a great deal more and in getting that number down, we compromised on adding some vacation days,” Kucharek said.

“I did the best I could for the city without insulting the candidate to the point where she said, ‘Forget this. I’m not going to take the job.’ All of you were unanimous in wanting to appoint her as city manager so there is a delicate dance to be had between getting the best numbers for the city yet promoting longevity and mutual respect and commitment between the city and the city manager,” she continued.

Host offered he was pleased Ecker was going to be the city manager but was not convinced that she should be getting the negotiated salary. Other commissioners disagreed, saying the contract was fair and negotiated in good faith.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve Ecker’s contract with the city, with Host voted against the motion.

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