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.

Next Steps: Interim City Administrator

On September 13th, Council met for a Special Session to discuss next steps in hiring an external candidate as a temporary Interim City Administrator. https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=893709&GUID=4D6AB8B4-F88F-457B-BFBF-3B415C5B1FB0

This Special Session was added to the Council calendar too late for me to include in the last Council Newsletter that I publish on my website. This meeting was called in order for Council to consider the Council Administration Committee’s recommendation of two candidates:

Mayor Taylor chairs the Council Administration Committee that chose these two candidates and unanimously recommended the resolution on the agenda of our Special Session. However, at the beginning of our meeting, Mayor Taylor shared two of his own amendments to that resolution: first, that only one candidate (rather than two) be considered for the position and second, that “staff input” be incorporated in the process of review. The first amendment (reducing the number of candidates) was never formally moved for discussion, but it was referenced in light of the second amendment (staff input), which was discussed and eventually approved. The two amendments in combination raised serious red flags for me when I heard the following remarks from my colleagues:

“I am interested in hearing staff feedback regardless of the number of candidates. Whether or not it’s a comparative process. I think, frankly, it could be a comparative process where neither candidate moves forward.”

and

“I also am interested in getting staff’s feedback in terms of bringing in an external candidate as well. I think that it is challenging. There are aspects of bringing in an external candidate interim City Administrator that are… it is work for staff, as well, and so I am curious to, within this process, also get some feedback from them about just that component as well.”

Our City Charter defines the City Administrator as very clearly one of only two staff positions under the direct control of Council:

SECTION 12.1 (b) The appointive officers shall be the City Administrator and the Attorney, who shall be appointed by the Council

The ideas expressed by my colleagues would be a totally novel approach, contrary to our City Charter: City staff would be empowered to reject one, two, or any number of candidates approved by Council for the role of Interim City Administrator. At least one of my colleagues is interested in allowing staff to reject the whole “component” of an external candidate, despite the fact that Council unanimously agreed that an external candidate was needed.


One of my colleagues clarified his remarks to say:

“Just because one or two may or may not be a fit, does not necessarily mean this would be the end of the process. It does not mean that if we do not select one of these people that the search is over and the status quo remains. It simply means that we might have to look elsewhere.”

In actual fact, an iterative process considering one candidate at a time - a process that includes staff “veto” - would very much preserve the “status quo” and extend the period of time when our City lacks experienced and qualified leadership.



TIMELINE

To understand the current “status quo” (and why it is worrisome), note a timeline of recent events:


7/20/21

City Council votes to conclude the employment of City Administrator Tom Crawford, based on anonymous complaints from five members of staff.


8/2/21

City Council approves a separation agreement with Tom Crawford.


8/16/21

City Council unanimously approves a plan to search for an external candidate to act as Interim City Administrator for a period of approximately one year. John Fournier is approved as temporary Acting City Administrator until September 20, 2021.


8/29/21

Acting City Administrator John Fournier announces $200,000 in salary increases to high level City Staff, explaining that he asked for the Director of Human Resources to consider these raises “the day after I was appointed to serve as the Acting City Administrator.” MLive story about staff raises (Sept 1, 2021): https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/09/acting-ann-arbor-administrator-plans-to-give-staff-200k-in-raises.html


Note that the Director of Human Resources - hired eight months ago - was among those staff receiving a salary increase. MLive story about HR director hiring (Feb 1, 2021): https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/02/two-years-after-text-scandal-ann-arbor-finally-hires-new-hr-leader-for-city-hall.html


9/1/21

Acting City Administrator John Fournier sends a directive to City Council on “Interactions with City Staff” that includes these orders:

“Service requests, such as potholes, water main breaks, traffic control issues, etc, should be registered in A2 Fix It rather than emailed directly to staff. If the service request is urgent, please contact the City Administrator’s Office or me directly”

and

“Council Members should not be working directly with staff on resolutions, or making requests directly of staff members to work on a resolution, without first contacting the City Administrator and the City Administrator making specific staff available to the Council members as needed.”

9/7/21

Acting City Administrator John Fournier explains in a public meeting that

“[R]esolutions, I think, should maybe be focused on topics and values and less on directing the administrator specifically on how to get the work done.”

9/13/21

City Council approves two candidates for interview and assessment for the job of Interim City Administrator. This resolution was amended at the table to add input from staff, as well as add explanation that the Acting City Administrator and the City’s Director of Human Resources will help oversee the evaluation process.



MOVING FORWARD

The Council Administration committee developed and recommended a plan - the hiring of an external candidate for Interim City Administrator for approximately one year - to meet the immediate need for a qualified professional in the office of City Administrator. On August 16, 2021, City Council unanimously approved the posting of this job and the need for an external candidate. I voted in support of an external transition candidate for one very important reason: I believe there is no appropriate and qualified internal candidate to serve as an Interim City Administrator while we search for a new one.


City Council’s ability to advocate on behalf of residents - both in terms of broad policy and in specific instances of neighborhood problems - has already been compromised significantly in just the last month. With the departure of Tom Crawford, our city lost a strong advocate for both fiscal responsibility and collaborative problem-solving with and on behalf of residents.


In light of many enormous decisions in the immediate future - the largest of which is likely to be prioritizing use of federal stimulus money - we need a qualified City Administrator sooner rather than later. Indirect efforts to delay or disable this process are not in the best interests of the City. Our community should be very concerned about any proposal allowing staff to essentially ‘veto’ the unanimous vote of Council or delay the installment of a qualified City Administrator. City Council cannot evade its responsibility under the City Charter.


I look forward to interviewing both candidates at the Special Work Session scheduled for Tuesday, Sept 21st.

https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=894855&GUID=8228FF61-F316-460E-9784-9A2E9F011A67