Sterling Heights council approves $38K raise for city manager

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Sterling Heights City Council approved a contract Tuesday for City Manager Mark Vanderpool that raises his pay nearly $38,000.

The hike of $37,950, from $165,000 to $202,950, puts Vanderpool on par with counterparts in similarly sized communities in Michigan, the mayor and some council members said.

They called him a visionary administrator who strengthened the city, attracting businesses and steering major developments.

Sterling Heights city manager Mark Vanderpool

"It's long overdue and I strongly believe that we are getting more than good value from Mark Vanderpool," Mayor Michael Taylor said before the 4-3 vote. "… It's the right thing to make sure that we have steady leadership as we are on the precipice of some very important decisions in this city’s history."

The contract is effective Jan. 1.

According to 2019 figures compiled by Sterling Heights, the highest paid city manager in Michigan is in Grand Rapids, at $257,500, followed by Ann Arbor at $223,600, Troy at $167,500 and Farmington Hills at $163,200. Vanderpool was paid $165,000.

Sterling Heights' population was 132,438, according to Census Bureau figures for 2019. Grand Rapids had 201,013; Ann Arbor, 119,980; Troy, 84,092; and Farmington Hills, 80,612.

Some councilmembers said it was unfair comparing Vanderpool's pay to that of other city managers since those colleagues may oversee larger departments and services.

"We are completely different," Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski said. "We are comparing apples and oranges." 

Sierawski, who voted no on the contract, said while she believed Vanderpool deserved accolades and more pay, "this is not the time," citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Councilman Michael Radtke described the move as "almost a slap in the face" to struggling residents.

"Their lives are on hold because of the pandemic," he said. "They are not able to make big ticket purchases. They are not able to go on and do the things they want to do."

Councilwoman Deanna Koski, who cast the third no vote, said Vanderpool's contract could have been reviewed annually with pay adjustments determined then instead of a large hike all at once.

Vanderpool has been Sterling Heights' city manager since 2004. He previously was the assistant village manager for Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

Under his existing contract, Vanderpool, in addition to his base salary, receives about $29,000 in benefits. He receives no fixed pension when he retires. Instead, the city contributes $18,000 a year into a retirement account. The city provides him with a vehicle.

Taylor lauded the city manager's efforts in obtaining a $100 million federal road grant to rebuild Mound Road. 

"I shudder to think what would happen if we were to lose him," the mayor said.

A statement the city human resources division submitted before the vote listed more than 30 achievements Sterling Heights reached during Vanderpool's tenure, including securing a $4.5 million grant to restore several miles of the Clinton River and organizing an effort that spurred a $2.4 billion investment by FCA at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant.

Sterling Heights has about 500 full-time city employees. It expects to record revenue in 2020 of about $110 million and expenditures of about $106 million.

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said it could be harder to retain Vanderpool or future managers without themore competitive salary.

"Sometimes the best of the best is taken for granted because they make the job look easy," she said.

Councilwoman Maria Schmidt called Vanderpool "one of the best city managers in the state" and rejected the idea that he didn't deserve a raise during a pandemic.

"It (sends) the message to our residents that we are willing to invest in our community and make sure that we have stability," she said. "We have someone leading this city who has a proven record."