Tom Markus, city manager of Iowa City, named Lawrence city manager
In a roomful of city employees Thursday afternoon, Mayor Mike Amyx named Lawrence’s incoming city manager: Tom Markus, the current city manager of Iowa City, Iowa.
Markus, 64, is expected to start the week of March 21 and will earn an annual base salary of $190,000. He was selected from an initial pool of 54 applicants, which had been narrowed to three finalists before city commissioners said, nearly one month ago, that they had made a decision.
After reading a prepared statement Thursday, Amyx asked city staff to turn on a large monitor showing Markus on a video call.
“Being able to have you at the top post is going to be a great fit for our community,” Amyx said later. “This is truly a great day for Lawrence, Kan.”
Before Markus is officially hired, the City Commission must approve his employment agreement. The agreement is on the commission’s agenda for Tuesday.
Besides $190,000 in base salary, the proposed agreement provides another $15,000 that will go into a deferred compensation fund in Markus’ first year. After his first year, the deferred pay will increase to whatever is the maximum amount of deferred payment allowed by law. Those maximums change annually. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the maximum amount of deferred compensation for 2015 and 2016 is $18,000, plus another $6,000 for those 50 and older.
In addition to his base salary, deferred contributions and other benefits, Markus will receive up to $30,000 in reimbursements for moving costs.
After five years in Iowa City, Markus earns a $173,000 base salary there, plus $22,000 in deferred compensation.
Former Lawrence City Manager David Corliss left in June to take a job as town manager of Castle Rock, Colo. When he left, Corliss had served nearly a decade as Lawrence’s top nonelected official.
According to city employee salary documents from 2013, the most recent year available, Corliss grossed $186,915 in 2013. The base annual salary for the position was listed as $140,000.
Corliss earned $187,785 in 2014, according to a database from the Kansas Policy Institute.
“I can tell you, at this stage, that’s not the most important thing that determines what I do or don’t do,” Markus said of the earnings. “I want to be engaged in a place where we’re making progress and making improvements. Over time, those things don’t affect me as much as maybe some other candidate.”
When talking about his salary in Iowa City, Markus said there was concern among the Lawrence commission that he had also received the $22,000 in deferred compensation.
The process to narrow the pool of city manager candidates to one person lasted more than four months, and the negotiation process — once Markus was selected — took another month.
Negotiations were paused over the holidays.
“There’s always a give and take in the negotiation of a contract,” Markus said. “Those things take time.”
Amyx thanked the public Thursday for its patience during the process. Commissioner Matthew Herbert said the time was needed to make a good decision.
“For us, this is the single biggest decision we may make this term,” Herbert said. “Having such a good leadership at the city manager level, there was no hurry. The sky was not falling in Lawrence, Kan. There was no rush. We knew we could take our time and find the right one, and I think we have with Tom.”
Markus’ employment contract with Iowa City mandates he offer the city council 60 days notice that he’s leaving that position. If the Lawrence City Commission approves his agreement Tuesday, Markus said he would then give the notice.
Markus said he was “overjoyed” to find out he was chosen.
“It’s refreshing, quite frankly, that a manager long in the tooth still has some desirability out in the public,” the 64-year-old said.
The two other finalists — Cheryl Harrison-Lee, the city administrator of Gardner, and Rod Bremby, a commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services and former Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment — are 53 and 55, respectively.
“I’m very proud to be your city manager, and I’m humbled by the opportunity,” Markus said. “I look forward to getting started and seeing if we can make an improvement every day we work together.”
In his first months as Lawrence’s city manager, Markus said, he wants to start to understand the community and culture and then suggest beginning a strategic planning process. One change he wants to make in the city is collaborating more with Kansas University and Douglas County.
Markus has worked in municipal government since 1973, when he started as an administrative intern in his hometown of Waseca, Minn. He has served as a city manager in various Midwestern cities since 1977.
He and his wife, Debra, will be required, under his employment agreement, to establish residency in Lawrence six months after his start date. The couple has three grown children in Michigan, Wisconsin and Utah.
Markus is one of seven siblings, and he has a sister living in Overland Park.