Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

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I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

An Irresponsible Termination

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, a majority of Ann Arbor City Council directed the termination of Tom Crawford as our City Administrator. I was not among them. Below, I have outlined recent events (including links to all relevant primary sources). In the last week, I have seen colleagues (and members of the public who support my colleagues) intentionally communicate partial information, misleading information, or wildly inaccurate information in order to distort public understanding of an important City decision. Below are facts and clarification in response to what has been aggressively distorted.

PRIMARY SOURCES

I encourage people to seek out primary sources whenever possible. If you prefer to read only primary sources on this issue, I urge you to visit the links below.


Investigation Report

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9642233&GUID=F97557B5-5C1C-4079-91BD-41ADC3239479


Mr. Crawford’s Response to Investigation Report

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9642230&GUID=E82FFDA6-CD51-44A0-8368-CE7F24C4A0C5


Agenda Response to DC-7

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9629980&GUID=273A82D9-8F5E-44BF-BA13-AB447A7E2F8B


The agenda response references an incident from 2019 as an example of recent city practice. A media report of that incident can be found here:

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2019/09/former-ann-arbor-human-resources-director-frequently-caused-conflicts-with-others-report-finds.html


The whole of the City’s investigation report into that incident can be found here:

https://www.a2gov.org/departments/city-administrator/SiteAssets/Pages/CityAdministratorsOffice/CityAdminstratorReport%20and%20Exhibits%201-8.pdf


DC-7a Resolution to Make Investigative Report Public

http://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5035844&GUID=9A7FCC32-EFC3-4664-B5E0-05F8AC008645


DC-7b Resolution to Direct Actions to Work to Conclude Mr. Crawford's Employment as the City Administrator

http://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5036709&GUID=26AED73C-8232-4BB0-8C5D-9C3EBB83B3CC



HR Policies referenced in Investigation Report:

Employee Standards of Conduct (HR Policy 2.1)

2.1 Employee Standards of Conduct
.pdf
Download PDF • 150KB

Employee Non-Discrimination (HR Policy 2.2)

2.2 Employee Non-Discrimination
.pdf
Download PDF • 3.23MB

HR Policy referenced in Agenda Response to DC-7:

Anti-Harassment (HR Policy 2.12)

2.12 Anti-Harassment
.pdf
Download PDF • 3.80MB

COUNCIL DECISIONS

In the last few days, I have seen many comments and remarks posturing that a Council decision was a simple matter of “following City policy” and not a matter of discretion or choice. This framing is surely intentional, given the political ugliness that followed the previous discretionary Council decision to remove a City Administrator.


In 2020, when a previous Council exercised discretion to remove a City Administrator, the Mayor himself rather disingenuously pretended that the legal term “without cause” was the same as “for no good reason.” (Note: the Mayor is an attorney who understands such terms.) I vividly remember the many emails I received from members of the community who were angry in 2020— I remember, also, how very few of those emails came from people who had ever met or worked with the person at the center of our discussion. I wrote about it at the time:


Statement Regarding Separation Agreement with City Administrator (Feb 20, 2020)

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/statement-regarding-separation-agreement-with-city-administrator


Additional Thoughts (Feb 29, 2020) - City Administrator and Police Chief

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/additional-thoughts-feb-29-2020-city-administrator-and-police-chief


The circumstances of this week’s decision are very very different from the circumstances in 2020. The current Council majority has acted to remove a member of the local Ann Arbor community who has a long and distinguished record of service to the City. I made the following statement about Tom Crawford at the July 20, 2021 Council Meeting:


Statement about Tom Crawford at July 20, 2021 Council Meeting

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/statement-about-tom-crawford-at-july-20-2021-council-meeting



THEN (2020) AND NOW

In 2020, Council negotiated a separation agreement with a City Administrator who had come to us from Austin, Texas. He had lived and worked in Ann Arbor for only four years, so it is understandable that most community members had not had the opportunity to engage with or interact with him. In contrast, Mr. Crawford has lived and worked in Ann Arbor for decades. He has a 17 year history working directly for the City of Ann Arbor — that history includes years leading a City department as our Chief Financial Officer and several turns as interim City Administrator, all with consistently positive performance reviews from staff and colleagues. Recommendations and assessments ahead of his hiring confirmed Mr. Crawford’s many years of devotion to our community, competence, and integrity. In just the last six months, a survey of staff confirmed his supportive leadership through the crisis of the pandemic.


In 2020, every member of Council had worked closely with the then City Administrator for at least a year and a half. In pre-pandemic times, that work included many formal and informal in-person interactions. In contrast, the current majority of Council includes five members who took office eight months ago. During those eight months, interactions with Mr. Crawford have largely (and perhaps exclusively) been limited to ZOOM meetings and phone calls. For them, Mr. Crawford mostly exists as a head on a screen and a voice on the phone. They have not had the benefit of knowing Mr. Crawford as a work colleague and they have specifically rejected suggestions to learn more from the people who have known Mr. Crawford as a work colleague.


Council’s decision in 2020 happened after two very-public crises around high-level City staff: the departure of a Human Resources director and a suspension of the City’s police chief (who is African American). Both incidents led to investigations and raised community questions (explicit and implicit) about racial insensitivity at City Hall. In 2020, it was also known that our City Administrator was applying for other jobs outside of Ann Arbor. In stark contrast, events this week have caught the public completely by surprise. The recent Council decision happened in response to internal documents created in just the last month. Those documents were made public on Wednesday, only after a majority had already voted to terminate employment.


RECENT EVENTS and TIMELINE

(July 27, 2021: This timeline has been updated with Legistar links to City Council meetings and clarification of dates)


June 1, 2021

Council was informed about alleged statements made by City Administrator Tom Crawford. Mr. Crawford agreed to and authorized an outside investigation.

June 29, 2021

Council received a privileged copy of the investigation report. A redacted version of that report can be found here:

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9642233&GUID=F97557B5-5C1C-4079-91BD-41ADC3239479


From that report: “Between June 1 and June 18, 2021, I conducted interviews with five individuals who work with and had witnessed concerning comments by the City Administrator.” The investigation report is based on interviews with exactly five people, plus conversation with the human resources director. For reference: the city employs approximately 2200 employees, about 750 of which are full-time.


The report assessed whether Mr. Crawford had violated Employee Non-Discrimination Policy 2.2 or Employee Standards of Conduct Policy 2.1 (sections 5.8, 5.19, or 5.28).


Among the conclusions in that report:

“I do not believe that a preponderance of the evidence supports that the City’s Non Discrimination Policy has been violated.”

“the allegations at issue in this investigation did not involve any claim that Mr. Crawford has taken any adverse employment actions based on race, gender or any other protected category”

“I do not believe that the comments themselves violate the City’s Standards of Conduct Policy as it pertains to “indecent or offensive conduct,” (5.19), or “failure to behave in a professional and respectful manner.” (5.8).”

“Mr. Crawford’s comments instead most clearly violate Standards of Conduct Policy 5.28, which prohibits: “Engaging in any behavior or action, on or off duty, that is detrimental to the reputation or image of the city or the operations of the workplace.””


July 6, 2021

Council met in closed session after a regularly scheduled Council Meeting to discuss the investigation report. Mr. Crawford and Council agreed that he would write a formal written response to this report.


Legistar link to City Council meeting

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=829774&GUID=02AB333F-6A45-40F4-87F0-16D6B021D884


July 12, 2021

Council met in closed session after a City Council work session to discuss Mr. Crawford’s response to the investigation report, in which he offered to take time off for personal growth (unpaid suspension) and committed to significant professional development moving forward. That document can be read in its entirety here:

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9642230&GUID=E82FFDA6-CD51-44A0-8368-CE7F24C4A0C5


Legistar link to City Council work session

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=873401&GUID=F99E05A7-B9A8-42F3-B151-12B901060DF3


July 19, 2021 (one day before the scheduled Council meeting)

Agenda item DC-7 was added to the Council agenda, directing the public release of the Investigation Report and Mr. Crawford’s response to it; that agenda item also directed the conclusion of Mr. Crawford’s employment with the City. At the Council table, the two decisions were split into two separate votes:

DC-7a Resolution to Make Investigative Report Public

http://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5035844&GUID=9A7FCC32-EFC3-4664-B5E0-05F8AC008645

DC-7b Resolution to Direct Actions to Work to Conclude Mr. Crawford's Employment as the City Administrator

http://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5036709&GUID=26AED73C-8232-4BB0-8C5D-9C3EBB83B3CC


July 20, 2021

An agenda question from Mayor Taylor asked for justification of DC-7 within Human Resources Policy and Practice (HRPP). The answer (authored by both the Interim City Administrator and the Human Resources director) recommends further investigation but also references Employee Non-Discrimination Policy 2.2 and (for the first time) Anti-Harassment Policy 2.12 as justification for termination. (Note: the investigation report concluded that Policy 2.2 had not been violated; the investigation report did not identify 2.12 as relevant.)

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9629980&GUID=273A82D9-8F5E-44BF-BA13-AB447A7E2F8B


Legistar link to City Council meeting

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=829775&GUID=F2E744E3-330B-4E99-9B18-FFE7070F7089



HR POLICY DOCUMENTS

The investigation report concluded that there was no violation of the City’s Non-Discrimination Policy 2.2 (5.19 or 5.8) Those policies can be found here:

2.2 Employee Non-Discrimination
.pdf
Download PDF • 3.23MB

The investigation report identified violation of the City’s Standards of Conduct Policy 2.1 (5.28 Engaging in any behavior or action, on or off duty, that is detrimental to the reputation or image of the city or the operations of the workplace). The entirety of that policy can be found here:

2.1 Employee Standards of Conduct
.pdf
Download PDF • 150KB

Contradicting the investigation report, the Interim City Administrator and the Human Resources director assert a violation of the City’s Non-Discrimination Policy 2.2 (see link above). The Interim City Administrator and Human Resources Director also assert violation of the City’s Anti-Harassment Policy 2.12 (a policy not identified as relevant by the investigation report). That policy can be found here:

2.12 Anti-Harassment
.pdf
Download PDF • 3.80MB

TRANSPARENCY AND NARRATIVE

At the July 20 meeting, Council voted unanimously to release both the investigation report and Mr. Crawford’s response to it. In the investigation report, Mr. Crawford denies some of the allegations and offers context for others. For each allegation, the investigator concludes that an unspecified number of witnesses (“multiple”) are more credible than Mr. Crawford. Let me be clear: the alleged remarks would not be acceptable for Ann Arbor's City Administrator to make casually, or defend as harmless or inconsequential. In the context of the investigator’s report, Mr. Crawford is clear in acknowledging how and where the alleged language is both unacceptable and inappropriate.


In his response to the investigation report, Mr. Crawford sets aside any denial or explanation and holds himself accountable, for the good of the organization. He offers a credible path forward for his continued leadership and professional improvement, as directed by our Human Resources department and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer. Notably, several of my colleagues have opted to draw attention to the first investigation document without the context of the second document, from Mr. Crawford.


Justification for this week’s decision to terminate (Agenda Response to DC-7) was co-written by a member of City Staff who is likely to apply for the job of City Administrator: the same person currently acting as Interim City Administrator. The example offered as evidence of the City’s past practice and enforcement of Non-Discrimination policy is the case of a former Human Resources Director found to have sent racially offensive text messages to and about City staff. That 2019 incident led to an investigation of the City Administrator, in order to determine his awareness of the offensive behavior and responsibility for her continued employment. The media reported on it here:

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2019/09/former-ann-arbor-human-resources-director-frequently-caused-conflicts-with-others-report-finds.html


In 2019, a 112 page investigation of the City Administrator included 25 witnesses, binders of written evidence, 2400 pages of emails, and two years of job performance appraisals (plus supporting documents) for that City Administrator. You can find that report here:

https://www.a2gov.org/departments/city-administrator/SiteAssets/Pages/CityAdministratorsOffice/CityAdminstratorReport%20and%20Exhibits%201-8.pdf


DECISION AND AFTERMATH

In the last month, I have pleaded for my colleagues to seek more background and context, anything that would help inform decision-making. Mr. Crawford’s work record within our city organization is significant and knowable. I asked that new Council Members take the time to review and study recent staff assessments to better understand if reports were a concerning pattern, reflective of a bigger problem. It was suggested that new Council Members review the staff survey that preceded Mr. Crawford’s hiring. There was no interest. Moving forward, Mr. Crawford welcomed further scrutiny of his leadership across the whole of our organization and under the specific direction of the Human Resources director and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer. A majority of my colleagues did not believe any more information would be helpful.


One of my colleagues argued that a very small number of complaints was proof of an even bigger problem: a smaller number of outliers was proof that people were even more marginalized. Similarly, I have seen arguments that a 17 year record for professionalism, sensitivity and inclusion is a liability rather than a credential: if over those 17 years no one reported anything close to offensive or unprofessional behavior, it is surely more proof that everyone was too intimidated and scared to come forward.


Public reaction now is an interesting parallel to what happened in 2020. I am meeting with and receiving phone calls from community members who have worked closely with the City Administrator. The voices most strongly in support of the Mayor (and the termination) have no direct knowledge of Mr. Crawford’s work or long history with the City. Just like in 2020, the opinions in support of the Mayor and his allies are expressed aggressively in online forums.


In contrast to 2020 - and in their zeal to defend a reckless decision — people are actively working to destroy the reputation of a man who is well-known in our community for his honesty, competence, and sincerity. The many members of our community who know Mr. Crawford well - people who have worked with him for many years — are horrified by the actions of a majority of Council. Former Council Members on all sides of past and present allegiances are worried about the future of our City.


CONCLUSION

A majority of Council would like the community to believe that the decision to terminate Mr. Crawford’s employment was supported by facts, consistent with recommendations, and dictated by city policy. None of that is true. A majority of Council introduced the idea of termination, based on disputed reports from five people. A majority of Council intentionally ignored other available information and rejected specific recommendations to seek out more information.


Remarkably, the justification for their decision contradicts the investigation report and introduces new, wholly unsupported suggestions of policy violation. The example offered as evidence of "past practice" is a 2019 incident involving a city employee and the then City Administrator. Investigation into the then City Administrator stands in stark contrast to what was offered to Council this week: in 2019, the 112 page report included written documentation, five times as many witnesses, as well as two years of past job performance appraisals of the then City administrator. The tiny scope of the Crawford investigation and the comparatively enormous consequence of the resulting Council decision do not come close to conforming to past practice.


Everything about this decision is reckless and discretionary. It is also irresponsible.


At every juncture, this issue has been framed as one that requires less thoughtful consideration rather than more. My colleagues - those with the least amount of relevant experience - preferred less information rather than more. Our current City leadership encourages the larger community to embrace this approach as one that is righteous. That framing is a symptom of much larger problems and it will lead to yet more terrible decisions moving forward. Thoughtful members of our community do need to stand up and speak out against it.