Additional Thoughts (Aug 22, 2020) – City Administrator Next Steps

Aug 22, 2020 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Aug 22, 2020 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section

We are reaching the end of a long process in choosing a new City Administrator. The person who fills this role will have the primary responsibility of handling our day-to-day operations (overseeing City staff) and executing the public policies approved by City Council. This process has been extended by months, due to the need for additional survey/assessment of work environments at City Hall.


Ann Arbor has been without a permanent Human Resources director for over a year. The former HR director left in May 2019, after she was found to be communicating in ways that were racist and highly offensive. At the time, it was hard to measure how much her long-term influence might have negatively impacted working relationships (or working conditions, generally) at City Hall. It was written about here:

In the aftermath, it was decided that a permanent replacement would not be hired until a staff “climate assessment” could be conducted. That assessment did not actually begin until February 2020 – interviews were conducted through mid-March, right as the pandemic forced us to quarantine. The results of the “Labor Relations Climate Assessment” was released to Council on July 6, 2020, with the recommendation that the recruitment process for an HR director should begin.

This Climate Assessment will inform the perspective of a new City Administrator. This report will also help the new City Administrator hire a permanent HR director. The City’s work to recover from that problematic HR director is highly relevant to the decision now before us. We need a new permanent HR director and that person needs to be hired by the permanent City Administrator.


The City administrator works and collaborates primarily with City staff and City Council. Community leaders and heads of other local institutions will partner with our City Administrator, but most members of the public would never have reason to work directly with our City Administrator. Significantly, in the months leading up to this job posting, we collected a great deal of input from staff about our internal work environments.

Last year’s process for hiring a new police chief was very different. Where our search for a City Administrator was front-loaded with lots of staff input, the search for a Chief of Police was front-loaded with lots of public input. It makes sense that hiring a new Police Chief demanded significant public input: the job of leading our police department has everything to do with public engagement and daily, individual interactions with members of the public. Our Chief of Police needs to understand our local values, the needs of residents, and how to develop policies consistent with those values and needs. As our community continues discussion about the role of our police, public input must be at the center of all of those conversations.


These few months between August primaries and November general elections are an interesting time of year. I remember this period in 2018, the year I was elected to City Council. In the final few weeks before new members were seated in 2018, Council meetings ran very long and very late in order to finalize the ordinance for our Independent Community Police Oversight Commission.

At the City Council meeting of October 1, 2018, I made a public comment to City Council as “a resident of Ward 4,” urging them to approve the task force ordinance and validate that work: (CTN YouTube link, timestamp 47 minutes)

I still believe that City Council did not empower our commission as much as it could have during the process of adopting the oversight ordinance, but it was not up to me. It never occurred to me to suggest that they postpone their decision making (by one month) to include me. Our system of local partisan elections means that the winners of primaries are not seated until months later. This is the system established in our City charter.

For the interview process this week, special status was granted to the winners of the recent August primary elections. A panel of “community members” that is typically reserved for external stakeholders – leaders from local organizations and institutions outside of City Hall – was expanded to include the five future members of City Council. Their assessments of the candidates have been included in our process.

I look forward to conversation on Monday night about next steps – we spoke to four excellent candidates on Thursday night and each of them brings a unique set of qualifications. I am eager to move forward with a decision.