Houghton city manager contract approved

Houghton City Manager Eric Waara listens to council discussion of his manager contract during Wednesday’s meeting. The council approved a new two-year contract for Waara, who has been manager since 2014. (/Daily Mining Gazette photo by Garrett Neese)

HOUGHTON — Houghton’s city manager has a new contract.

The Houghton City Council on Wednesday approved a new contract for Houghton City Manager Eric Waara, whose current contract expires June 30. The two-year contract includes a 3% raise identical to the one negotiated for other city employees.

In a separate motion, the council voted to give Waara $2,000 in hazard pay. The $2,000 is the same amount given to other city employees in 2020, which Waara did not receive at that time.

“We suggested to him that we wanted to correct what we thought was a nice motion on his part, but we felt that he deserved it as much as everybody else,” said Councilor Mike Needham, who serves on the personnel committee.

The contract also reduces the minimum advanced notice for resignation from six months to 90 days. It also changed the forfeit of all vacation and sick time upon resignation to only forfeiting 25% of accrued vacation.

“The six-month (requirement) is, in our opinion, a period of time aimed at a new hire when we’re looking to ensure some continuity,” Needham said. “We have a longstanding city manager at this point. It’s an onerous and almost punitive length of time.”

Waara has served as city manager since 2014.

In other action, the council:

– Recommended Brad Baltensperger’s appointment to the Houghton Planning Commission Wednesday. Under city ordinance, the appointment is technically made by the mayor with advice from the council.

Baltensperger replaces Michelle Jarvie-Eggart, who left the Houghton City Planning Commission after moving out of the city limits. Baltensperger fills the industrial/economic position.

Baltensperger worked for Michigan Technological University for 40 years as professor of geography, the last 13 as department chair.

He has also held numerous education-related posts, including founding the Copper Country Association of School Boards. He has spent 34 years on the Houghton-Portage Township Schools Board, including serving three times as president.

Three people applied for the postion: Baltensperger, Jason Mack and Norma Veurink.

Councilor Craig Waddell suggested the council consider Veurink. She has attended meetings more frequently, Waddell said. Her background, which includes civil engineering experience, is also most similar to Jarvie-Eggart’s, Waddell said.

Waddell also objected to inconsistencies in the approval process, noting that Jarvie-Eggart had been appointed during a special meeting in which the council interviewed every candidate.

The council approved Baltensperger by a 4-3 vote. Mayor Bob Backon, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Megowen and councilors Mike Needham and Brian Irizarry voted for him, while Waddell and councilors Jan Cole and Joan Suits voted against.

“I think all three of these candidates would do a terrific job, and I think the mayor’s nomination is a qualified candidate,” said Irizarry, who cast the final vote.

– Approved $1,500 for the Pewabic Street Community Garden, as the council does every two years. Money has gone toward paying water bills, repairs and scholarships for low-income gardeners, said co-director Elena Busova.

The garden will hold its 14th annual plant sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 28 at the Trinity Episcopal Church at 205 E. Montezuma Ave. in Houghton. The sale is the garden’s sole fundraiser of the year.

– Heard a report from police Chief John Donnelly. The department hired a full-time officer, Jeremy Tormala. Donnelly said he is the department’s first new hire in years to come directly from the academy.

– Heard a report from Waara. The city has begun sweeping. Semco Gas Energy Co. was doing excavation at the scene of an apartment fire and explosion on College Avenue. Crews on the pier project are working in the parking lot to install storm sewers, which Waara said should be finished in the next day or so.

– Received correspondence from Waddell, who said he would redirect his pay as councilor to the police department for crisis intervention training. The council also received a letter from Portage Township notifying it of a planning commission public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday to consider amending the zoning ordinance to allow seaplanes as a use in the B-2 district. The affected property is within 300 feet of the city’s Nara Nature Park, which prompted the notification.

– Discussed future agenda items. Waddell said he planned to introduce an issue related to the Nara Nature Park; upon questioning from Needham, he did not elaborate. In a document sent later to council members and the media, Waddell said he had talked with a resident who has trail management experience. The resident made several suggestions for improvement. One included splitting maintenance of the Tech Trails and Nara Nature Park ski trails, now done by Michigan Tech, between the city of Houghton, Michigan Tech and volunteers. The resident would also organize other volunteers to conduct a more comprehensive survey of the Nara Park trails (separate from the connected Michigan Tech Trails) and to make trail management recommendations to the city.

– Passed a resolution adopting the Houghton County Recreation Authority Articles of Incorporation and requesting to rejoin the authority. The original articles of incorporation needed to be redone after a procedural error.

– Set a public hearing for the 2022-23 operating budget for 5:30 p.m. June 15.

– Set a public hearing for the 2022-27 capital improvement plan for 5:30 p.m. June 15.

– Adjusted subcommittee assignments. Waddell was appointed to the ordinance review, emergency, revolving loan fund, non-motorized transportation and cable franchise subcommittees.

– Met as the city of Houghton Zoning Board of Appeals to approve a request for a rearyard and square foot variance at 609 W. Calverley Ave.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today