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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

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.

Hiring a Permanent City Administrator: Milton Dohoney Jr

The post below originally appeared in my March 19, 2022 newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section. At our meeting on March 21, City Council unanimously approved the hiring of Milton Dohoney Jr as Ann Arbor City Administrator. A motion to postpone the decision until the June 6th meeting - in order to carry out a more regular hiring process and engage more staff - was defeated.

 

This week’s agenda includes a big decision: hiring Milton Dohoney as our permanent City Administrator.

DC-3 (22-0499) Resolution to Approve the Hiring of Milton Dohoney Jr. as City Administrator


Residents may recall that Mr. Dohoney joined the City in October 2021, when he was hired as an ‘interim’ City Administrator. Mr Dohoney was first hired with a contract that anticipated his temporary service to the City extending up to January 2023.


BACKGROUND

The last hiring process for a permanent City Administrator was conducted by a previous Council in August 2020. At that time, we were unable to have in-person meetings of any sort, but the process included months of internal staff survey, close review of ten qualified applicants, public interview of four finalists (through three panels of Council/staff/community members) and receipt of online public input. This process resulted in the hiring of Tom Crawford as City Administrator.


On August 2. 2021, a majority of Council voted to end the term of then City Administrator, Tom Crawford, who had been employed by the City for 18 years. In the aftermath of that decision, the Council Administration Committee recommended a search for an interim City Administrator.


INTERIM LEADERSHIP

At our August 16, 2021 meeting, Council discussed the difference between searching for an interim City Administrator and a permanent City Administrator. Mayor Taylor is chair of the Administration Committee and answered questions at the table:

Question: Can you share how the notion came about to search for an interim and then, I assume, the search for a permanent will be the follow-on to that? Mayor Taylor: That is correct. In all cases where we have had a City Administrator… has left for one reason or another… there has been an interim for a time certain. More accurately, there has been an interim for a period of time and the theory is to appoint that person to serve as an interim until this Council selects a permanent. Question: It seems like we’re going to do a search and then another search or perhaps the interim search will yield a person who is wholly appropriate for the permanent position, is that part of our hope here? Mayor Taylor: If I can, perhaps… I think it was the Administration Committee’s thought that we would with a quick process to identify an interim, the interim would then have a period of service, the period of service be a term of a number of months and at that point we would have the option of… or, pardon me, we would have the opportunity to conduct a full search in the ordinary course. It is not envisioned, I think, that the interim would be a candidate for the main position.

MLive’s Ryan Stanton also reported on this meeting at the time, writing: "Whoever becomes the interim is not expected to be a candidate for the position full-time, Mayor Christopher Taylor said."

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/08/ann-arbor-may-operate-with-a-temporary-city-administrator-for-up-to-a-year.html


NEED FOR STABILITY

In Agenda item DC-3, we hire arguably the most important position at City Hall without the benefit of any “full search in the ordinary course.” Last August, City Council approved a search for candidates willing to be hired as “an external interim who would be able to serve as Interim City Administrator for a period up to a year, with the exact time period still to be determined.” We did not conduct a search for a permanent City Administrator. That resolution can be found here:

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5087334&GUID=46C07F7E-361E-4E2F-8CF9-9D19E02283BE


I am told that there is not time for any additional process because of transitions in other departments at City Hall. It is hoped that a permanent (rather than interim) City Administrator will reassure applicants to recently vacated positions at the head of our Parks and Recreation department as well as our Public Services department.


I encourage everyone to read responses to Agenda questions this week, which includes a recent performance review of Mr Dohoney:

AC-1 (22-0564) Agenda Response Memo and eComments - March 21, 2022


Mr. Dohoney received some very positive reviews. However, only 11% of City staff responded. Of that 11%, roughly a third responded "unable to judge" in answer to specific questions. Quoted responses include "I haven't had enough interaction or time with Milton to fully answer this question" and "Unable to score this item-have not been able to experienced his working with others in virtual environment/personal conversations" and "Not able to score/lack of direct experience." I am sympathetic to their reluctance — we don’t make the best decisions when people are eager and willing to make judgments without meaningful understanding of the subject.


THEN AND NOW

Two years ago, we heard enthusiastic advocacy around the significance of the City Administrator position: decisions about our City Administrator were framed as a community choice, subject to public critique and requiring significant public input. Advocacy for that approach has largely disappeared. In the last two years, Council members elected in 2020 have approved new policies that remove opportunities for public critique and public input regarding City decisions.


I appreciate how past decisions have now limited our options in terms of appropriate process. However, I am hopeful that Mr. Dohoney will provide the leadership that Ann Arbor needs at this particular moment in history. If you would like to learn more about Mr. Dohoney and the significant experience he brings to Ann Arbor, below are several MLive articles about him, along with a short YouTube interview: