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Happy retirement, city manager Tom Markus

In November 2010, we said au revoir to Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus after 22 years at the helm of the city. This time, we bid him adieu.


To those who didn't study high school French, au revoir means 'until we meet again.' Adieu means 'goodbye forever.'


While we hope to see Markus around town time and again, we understand as we say goodbye to Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus on June 30, after two-and-a-half years in his former job, that he is heading into a well-deserved retirement.


Markus thought he was a retired gent when the city commission turned to him in October 2020 to put his finger in the dyke of a city in serious trouble. The city manager, assistant city manager, human resource officer and numerous other department heads and employees at city hall had left, businesses were hemorrhaging in a world-wide pandemic, and with a polarized commission, Birmingham was at a standstill.


Markus proposed returning to the city for a five-year stint, which ended up as two-and-a-half years after commissioner Brad Host stalled the appointment, insisting on one year and the commission compromised in the middle.


In his short term, Markus not only righted the ship but brought it to keel and pushed it forward. He not only filled critical staff vacancies, but taught and mentored them on the proper role of government employees and their relationships with the city commission and residents. He worked extremely hard to educate the city commissioners, all of whom are relatively new to their position, as to what their proper role is in the hierarchy of city government and the pyramid of city staff. When necessary, he utilized the tools at hand, notably requesting and receiving advisory opinions from the city's ethics board on the appropriate role of a city commissioner, and the line between an elected individual and their personal self. He raised the issue of a commissioner code of conduct, a document seen in many municipalities across the country, and one continuing to be discussed by Birmingham's commissioners. He, along with his successor, Jana Ecker, and the city's planning staff, massaged the long-gestating 2040 Master Plan through completion. And as a standing member of the Birmingham Shopping District (BSD), he not only helped hire the current executive director Christina Sheppard-Decius, but interceded when he recognized certain lines of authority with subcontractors not being followed. He has initiated conversations with the city commission and the community about critical facility and security needs at city hall and the Birmingham Police Department.


Regionally, he created a new funding structure for the 48th District Court, which is being implemented with the six other local communities. His last great act was finding and helping the city purchase the Birmingham YMCA for Birmingham Next – a swan song which will glow long after Markus is gone.


And most significantly, he oversaw a national search for his own replacement – without putting his finger on the scale. When the city commission agreed that Markus' choice – Ecker, who he had made assistant city manager after years as planning director – he has made sure she began walking in his shoes so she would be perfectly prepared.


So Tom, whether you're planning on throwing a fishing pole into the water, heading to the back nine or just playing with the grandkids, know everyone here not only wishes you well, but sends you out a huge “Thank you.”

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