Shawnee mayor breaks tie vote to approve 25% pay increase for city manager

Nolan Sunderman

City Manager Nolan Sunderman

The Shawnee governing body on Monday voted 5-4 to approve a 25% pay increase for city manager Nolan Sunderman, with Mayor Michelle Distler casting the tie-breaking vote.

Sunderman’s base pay had been $148,000, which was significantly lower than the top administrators of large neighboring Johnson County cities. His new base pay is $185,000.

Shawnee city leaders deliberated for about an hour in executive session before returning to vote. Councilmembers Eric Jenkins, Mike Kemmling, Kurt Knappen and Tammy Thomas voted in dissent.

When Shawnee promoted Sunderman to city manager in summer 2018, his base salary was $135,000. He has since received two raises of $6,500 each, bringing his total base pay to $148,000. With additions including allowances for things like cell phones and a car payment, his total gross pay excluding benefits was $162,215 in 2019, according to the Kansas Policy Institute’s Kansas OpenGov database. Sunderman’s new total base pay, in combination with $16,006 in allowances and deferred compensation, is $201,006.

Here’s a comparison of the total gross pay combined with bonuses, allowances, etc., in 2019 for city managers in other large cities in Johnson County, according to Kansas OpenGov:

  • Lenexa: City Manager Beccy Yocham, $197,771 (her predecessor, Eric Wade, had a total gross pay of $289,802)
  • Olathe: City Manager J. Michael Wilkes, $276,700
  • Overland Park: City Manager Bill Ebel, $254,308

With a population of more than 65,000 residents to serve, an annual budget of approximately $90 million and 314 full time staff, Shawnee’s city government represents a significant operation to manage. However, the timing of Sunderman’s raise drew scrutiny following the council’s vote, with some residents noting on social media that neighboring cities were cutting expenditures and staff hours as they prepare for sharp revenue downturns stemming from the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Johnson County Government, Overland Park, Lenexa and Olathe have all furloughed employees. Overland Park furloughed 200 part-time employees and delayed previously planned raises for two months in an attempt to slash spending during the COVID-19 pandemic. Denise Rendina, spokesperson for Lenexa, said the city has temporarily furloughed about 14 part-time and variable parks and recreation employees who work in some city facilities which are temporarily closed during the pandemic. Last month, Olathe began implementing city-wide furloughs.

Sunderman joined Shawnee staff as assistant city manager in June 2016 following a two-year stint as assistant city administrator in Prairie Village. He succeeded long-time Shawnee City Manager Carol Gonzales following her move to a position with the Mid-America Regional council.