Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (August 22, 2020)

Aug 22, 2020 | Newsletter

Hello neighbors!

This is an abbreviated version of my usual newsletter because this Monday Ann Arbor City Council is holding a Special Session primarily to discuss next steps in the process of hiring a new City Administrator. However, there are two other items on the agenda, both related to local policy around face coverings and large gatherings. As of this writing, these agenda items do not yet have Legistar links attached to them, but everyone should be aware of why and how Council is considering them.

Temporary Emergency Face Covering/Gathering Ordinance

Council has heard community concerns around the University population returning to town. We were given a presentation on 8/17/20, all about UM efforts to keep everyone safe, which you can find here:

In the interest of public health, it is imperative that we all comply with recommendations around mask-wearing and warnings about large group gatherings. However, every time we make a rule/law with a requirement, we must also discuss how enforcement will happen. It must happen equitably and fairly. Agenda items DC-1 and DC-2 are efforts to achieve compliance with best practice in a way that is (hopefully) sensitive to the risks and challenges.

Agenda item DC-1 permits the Declaration of a Local State of Emergency. Without the Local State of Emergency, agenda item DC-2 would follow normal procedure for a new ordinance (first reading, second reading with public hearing), which would take weeks. There is interest in implementing new policy sooner rather than later. Under a Local State of Emergency, DC-2 can be enforced immediately.

I have seen only a draft of agenda item DC-2 (Temporary Emergency Ordinance), but in general it defines standards that are consistent with public health recommendations around mask use and large gatherings. There are many exceptions included and described. Violation of the ordinance will be a civil infraction (subject to a fine) rather than a misdemeanor (criminal charge). In helping draft this, our legal staff advised about how to prevent a disparate impact on vulnerable populations. I hope that the details of this ordinance are confirmed and published soon.

Ann Arbor City Council Special Session

If you have comments, feel free to email me.

The full agenda (including a link to the latest published PDF agenda) can be found on the A2Gov Legistar website:

Ann Arbor City Council Special Session
Monday Aug 24, 2020 (7:00pm)
Electronic Meeting

City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99). They are also streamed live on YouTube and Viebit:

DC-1 (20-1314) Resolution Consenting to the Mayor’s Declaration of a Local State of Emergency
This is needed in order to permit immediate enactment of DC-2, an ordinance related to face coverings and size of gatherings.

DC-2 (20-1315) Resolution to Adopt a Temporary Emergency Ordinance Section 1:327 a concerning face coverings and size of gatherings
People in the City of Ann Arbor will be required to wear masks when nearer than six feet to others who are not a family member of the same household (multiple exceptions apply, e.g. children under 5 years old). Businesses and government offices must require staff and customers to wear masks on the premises. Indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited (exceptions for religious worship, weddings/funerals previously scheduled, and polling places). Violation of this ordinance will be a civil infraction, subject to a fine.

DC-3 (20-1310) Resolution to Recommend City Administrator Search Process Next Steps
This decision follows months of internal staff survey as to needs/priorities, 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. The four finalists under consideration are Tom Crawford, Joyce Parker, Cara Pavlicek, and Eric Wobser.

Additional thoughts…

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.

Thank you for helping me represent Ward 4!
Elizabeth Nelson