Traverse City News and Events

Commissioners Approve City Manager Salary Increase, Drinks For Open Space Event, PILOT Agreement, Treasurer Termination

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 21, 2021

Traverse City commissioners Monday approved a salary increase for City Manager Marty Colburn, a move Mayor Jim Carruthers said was “reasonable” given Colburn’s work during the pandemic. The raise will be followed by an outside compensation study to evaluate wages for all non-union city employees. Commissioners Monday also approved a request from Up North Pride to serve mixed drinks at two Open Space events in October, approved a tax break for a proposed 53-unit apartment building on Garfield Avenue, and upheld Colburn’s recent firing of City Treasurer Kelli Martin.

Colburn’s salary will be increased by three percent effective immediately after commissioners voted to approve the raise Monday. The move will raise Colburn’s pay from $125,186 to $128,942 annually. The increase percentage is in line with other raises for city upper management, Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said. She and Carruthers noted in a memo that the city manager hasn’t requested any flexible work arrangements during the pandemic.

Carruthers and Shamroe requested that city commissioners consider evaluating salaries for other staff going forward. “We’d also like to see a comprehensive wage study done for all non-union employees in the future,” Carruthers told commissioners. Colburn is expected to return at a future meeting with a request for formal board authorization to go through a request-for-proposals (RFP) process to hire a firm to conduct the study. The move means two of the region’s largest municipal employers – the City of Traverse City and Grand Traverse County, which is undergoing its own $38,500 employee compensation study – will soon have market data analyzing their salary rates and whether wages are reasonable for each position in the organization.

Commissioners Monday approved a request from Up North Pride to serve mixed drinks at two Open Space in October. Up North Pride, which moved its events from June to October this year due to the pandemic, will hold Drag Night at the Open Space on Saturday, October 16 from 5pm-midnight and a brunch event on Sunday, October 17 from 11am to 1pm. The organization has sold beer and wine at Open Space events before, but not cocktails.

A memo from City Clerk Benjamin Marentette pointed out that other events have previously received city approval to sell mixed drinks in the Open Space, including the National Cherry Festival. While commissioners approved Up North Pride’s request without much discussion, Commissioner Brian McGillivary asked staff to ensure event planners were consulting with the Grand Traverse County Health Department on COVID safety protocols, especially for large public gatherings. Commissioners also signaled support for having an upcoming study session to review the city’s own policies and procedures related to COVID in light of continued cases and spread, including researching whether the city can legally require certain types of safety measures in some situations without a state emergency order in place.

A 53-unit apartment complex planned for 947 South Garfield Avenue was approved for a city tax break Monday, with more than half the units pledged to be affordable for 45 years. Woda Cooper Companies is planning to build the four-story development, called Annika Place, with 29 one-bedroom units averaging 652 square feet and 24 two-bedroom units averaging 815 square feet. Woda’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city will allow the company to pay six percent of rental income annually in place of traditional taxes, an estimated tax cut of $52,200 annually. In exchange, thirty-four units – or 64 percent of the building mix – will be targeted to renters earning between 70 and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Woda’s Craig Patterson told commissioners that even though the city PILOT agreement is good for 16 years, the project was committed to keeping the income-restricted units affordable for 45 years.

“That commitment is actually with the deed, that they must stay affordable,” he said. Patterson said the project is also planned to be funded through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which can take action against Woda and deny the company future funding if it breaks that commitment. Patterson plans to apply for state funding in October; if successful, the project could break ground in spring 2023 and be ready for occupancy in summer 2024. Woda is still working with city staff to finalize a vehicle access drive into the apartment complex. Staff’s recommendation to use the Galleries on Garfield access drive to the south was met with strong resistance by the condominium and business community there, with the project potentially using an access drive off Garfield Avenue instead.

Finally, commissioners Monday agreed to uphold Colburn’s recent termination of City Treasurer Kelli Martin and his appointment of deputy treasurer and deputy finance director James Henderson as interim treasurer until a hiring process can be initiated for a new treasurer. Commissioners went into closed session to discuss both issues, then came out into public session and voted unanimously to support Martin’s firing and Henderson’s appointment.

Though it did not change the outcome, and commissioners did not discuss or respond to her comments, Martin addressed commissioners Monday about her termination prior to their vote. She said that “coming to the city from a major research university was a large culture shock I did not expect,” and that while “being assertive was praised at the university, at the city I was told I was using an assertive tone.” Martin said the city’s technology was outdated and “challenging,” with her having to use a “decades old” utility billing system that wouldn’t let her run data queries and a 2010 departmental computer that couldn’t run necessary software.

Martin also said the city’s purchasing policy wasn’t followed. Martin said she blocked Assistant City Manager Penny Hill from accessing the city’s financial system, noting the city treasurer and city clerk are required to approve all city payments. Martin alleged Hill was using administrative access to approve payments, bypassing the city clerk’s required approval. Martin said she refused to follow Colburn’s instructions to reinstate Hill’s access and shared her concerns with the city attorney.

Martin also said she requested medical leave “to work through a health issue” and was denied because she was one week short of a year of service. After receiving two letters of reprimand for performance-related issues in August, Martin said she “only worked five business days between the letters of reprimand and being terminated. I came back to work and requested (medical leave) paperwork on a Wednesday; it was sent on the following Tuesday. Before my doctor could submit the (medical leave) paperwork, I was terminated on Wednesday.” Martin called herself a “lifelong public servant” in her statement, saying her focus “has always been on making the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars and supporting transparency.”

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