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Aberdeen city manager gets two-year contract extension, $13,000 raise

Aberdeen city manager gets two-year contract extension, $13,000 raise
Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson, left, addresses the mayor and City Council Monday evening. Robertson, who was hired in 2016, recently signed a two-year contract extension that grants him a pay increase and 21 sabbatical days. He is with Phyllis Grover, city director of planning and community development. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson has received a two-year extension in his contract, as approved by the City Council; the extension comes with a pay increase of more than $13,000 and the opportunity to take up to 21 days for a sabbatical.

It’s a compensation package one council member said was “substantially high” for a city the size of Aberdeen.

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Robertson was hired in May of 2016 by unanimous vote of the City Council, and his contract was extended for two years in June of 2017. His most recent term ended in May, and officials have been negotiating the contract extension during the spring and summer.

“This will get the city through the November election and allow the next mayor and council to have some continuity and set up a plan for the path forward,” Mayor Patrick McGrady said Monday evening as he announced the contract extension, which Robertson signed July 22.

The mayor’s seat and all four council seats will be up for election this year — candidate filing begins next month. McGrady said having Robertson on board for two more years means the current elected officials will not have to fill “a gaping hole” should Robertson have departed, nor will a new mayor and council have the burden of hiring a new city manager as one of their first duties.

McGrady said the contract remains the same, essentially, except for the “two major changes” in the pay increase to $168,500 and the 21 sabbatical days. That will give Robertson time outside the office to “work to advance his skills,” the mayor said.

“I’m pleased that Mr. Robertson has agreed to stay for an additional two years of hard work,” McGrady said. “We are making great strides every day here in Aberdeen, but there’s always more good work to do when you want to move from good to great.”

The city charter was amended during Robertson’s tenure, making the city manager the effective head of city government, rather than the mayor, and answerable to mayor and City Council. Robertson also leads the city government as it is in the midst of a legal battle with the owners of the Aberdeen IronBirds minor league baseball team over the management of non-baseball events and ongoing maintenance of the city-owned Ripken Stadium.

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck, who has been on the council for 10 years, said Robertson is the third city manager with whom she has worked. She noted that she has seen “tremendous growth” over the past two years under the current manager.

She cited the “incredible relationship” Robertson has developed with leaders and staff at Aberdeen Proving Ground, new activity in downtown Aberdeen, plus the execution of a contract earlier this year to extend Middelton Road north from Route 22 to Beards Hill Road, a project she said has been in the works for decades.

A Starbucks store opened at Route 22 and Middelton in early July, close to where construction crews are extending Middelton. Landbeck said that signals what she calls “the Starbucks syndrome,” meaning that “once a municipality is able to gain a Starbucks, all of a sudden everything breaks through.”

“That has been a long hard journey, and I thank our city manager for what he has done,” she said. “He has certainly earned these things that we are trying to help him with.”

Landbeck called Robertson’s salary increase and sabbatical “a bonus, a ‘thank you,’ for his diligence.”

‘Substantially high’ for city Aberdeen’s size

Councilman Tim Lindecamp disagreed, saying he voted against extending Robertson’s contract based on “substantially high compensation package.” Lindecamp stressed his negative vote was not a reflection on Robertson’s performance.

He said a salary of $160,000 for a city manager in a city of Aberdeen’s size — the city has more than 16,000 residents, according to U.S. Census data — “is on the top end of the scale,” based on his conversations with Maryland Municipal League representatives.

Lindecamp listed other benefits in Robertson’s contract, including a $3,000 car allowance, a $3,000 retirement contribution, 20 vacation days, 12 sick days and 21 more days for sabbatical.

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“I believe that this contract is substantially high and does not reflect a city of our size,” he said.

Maryland municipalities can set their managers’ salaries based on population size, their budget and services provided, according to Jim Peck, a research specialist for the Maryland Municipal League.

Peck noted Aberdeen is among the top 30 of the state’s 157 municipalities, based on population.

Jesse Bane, Bel Air’s town administrator, has led the town government since 2015; his current annual salary is $134,517, according to Michael Krantz, the director of administration and human resources. The Town of Bel Air has slightly more than 10,000 residents, per Census data.

Lindecamp said Robertson will make more than the Harford County executive. The city manager’s salary exceeds County Executive Barry Glassman’s income by more than $28,000, in fact.

Glassman’s current salary is $140,144, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby, who noted the Aberdeen manager’s salary is higher than the county executive’s or any of his agency directors'. Glassman was elected to his first term leading the county government in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.

Patrick Sypolt, director of administration for the City of Havre de Grace, makes $125,000 a year. He has worked for the city for 18 years, including nearly five in his current position, Sypolt said Thursday. He works under Mayor William T. Martin, as Havre de Grace’s elected mayor leads that city’s executive branch and reports to the City Council.

Havre de Grace has a population approaching 14,000, according to Census data.

Sypolt’s duties include oversight of human resources, personnel, information technology, tourism and marketing, procurement, elections and coordinating the “legislative process” with the mayor, his chief of staff, the City Council and city attorney. He also oversees the handling of citizen complaints and public information requests through City Hall and coordinates with the mayor and department heads on creating the annual budget.

Sypolt noted contract negotiations with municipal managers are a “subjective” process, and officials must consider the desired duties of the position and the manager’s skills, professional expertise, prior experience and their desire to sustain the manager rather than losing them to the “next-highest bidder.”

Robertson ‘absolutely worth’ it

Aberdeen Councilmen Melvin Taylor and Steve Goodin expressed their support for Robertson and the compensation package.

“I voted, ‘Yes,’” Taylor said. “I stand by my vote, I think it was a good vote — I think he’s worth that and a little bit more.”

Goodin said Robertson has exceeded all of his expectations and praised his professionalism and commitment to the city, saying he is “absolutely worth” the new compensation.

“I think he has our city government running on all cylinders,” Goodin said. “It’s really impressive the way we are operating right now.”

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Robertson thanked city leaders for their votes of confidence, noting the sabbatical days will not cost the city anything if he does not take the time off.

He cited recent projects happening in the, such as the announcement, made Monday night, that UPS will invest in a facility in Aberdeen scheduled to open in October, the Prost German restaurant being built in the former Moose lodge is set to open soon, plus the news that University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health will establish its free-standing medical center in the Merritt Properties office building off of Route 22.

Robertson also reminded city leaders of what he called “a growing trend” among municipalities to hire a deputy or assistant city manager, as Robertson does not currently have a deputy.

He took time to praise city department heads and their staff, noting they are the ones that truly do the work of the city, saying that “I did virtually nothing, I just got to be your captain for a while.”

“Mayor and council you are blessed with a truly extraordinary group of great leaders, I think,” Robertson said.

He also extended thanks to his wife and “to my God,” telling both that he “couldn’t do it without you.”

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