Ann Arbor will have to wait a little bit longer before a new city administrator is chosen.
At Monday night’s special session, the council discussed the next steps in the search for a new city administrator, ultimately voting unanimously to carry on with the process and continue to consider all four candidates for the position.
Council members interviewed the four finalists through a public virtual panel on Thursday. The city then released feedback from council members, city staff and community members that included overall recommendations and ratings on leadership, communication and community engagement, among other categories.
In a heated, 90-minute discussion, council members debated how to best move forward with the hiring process. Some advised appointing the new city administrator at the meeting, while others strongly favored continuing to keep all finalists in the running and deciding who to hire at a later date.
Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, recommended appointing Interim City Administrator Tom Crawford for the position. Crawford has worked as the chief financial officer of the city of Ann Arbor since 2004 and became interim city administrator following council’s vote to fire former City Administrator Howard Lazarus without cause in February.
Lumm said Crawford had the most experience out of all the finalists and would have a positive impact on Ann Arbor. Crawford received the most positive feedback among the four finalists.
“Not one council member indicated they did not recommend Mr. Crawford, and I think that speaks volumes to Mr. Crawford’s ability to stay above the political fray, to manage politics and to treat everyone with respect,” Lumm said.
However, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor recommended an amendment to the resolution that would continue the hiring process and consider Cara Pavlicek, village manager of Oak Park, Illinois, in addition to Crawford for the position. Taylor argued both candidates warranted further inquiry due to their feedback responses.
Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, said he believed the council needed to provide the community the opportunity to meet with and vet candidates. He compared the city administrator hiring process to how the city selected Police Chief Michael Cox in July 2019, during which the city held an open house for community members to meet and talk with the final candidates.
“This is the most important position in the city,” Smith said. “We have not been at this in-depth for months and months, and I think giving it another couple of weeks and giving the community an opportunity to weigh in on this in a more purposeful way, I think would benefit all of us.”
Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, disagreed with Smith, saying the police chief hiring process should differ from the city administrator hiring process. She argued the police chief works more directly with the community while the city administrator works more closely with the council.
Nelson said she was prepared to make the job decision at the meeting since she said enough information about the candidates had already been collected. She expressed concern with the setup of last week’s interview panel, as five newly-elected council members who will not take office until November were also a part of the discussion, a move she called “unprecedented.”
“I am afraid that this is the beginning of a slippery slope and it is ugly,” Nelson said.
While all council members expressed support for Crawford, some contended it was important to not count out all of the finalists. Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, said the decision should not wait until a new council is seated, but the city should allow three more weeks to continue the search and consider all candidates for the job.
“I look back to our last process, which included more panels and meet and greets with each of the potential hires for city administrator, and I would love to have more of that direct opportunity for people to meet these candidates, ask questions that they care about and give more direct feedback,” Ackerman said.
The council then discussed an amendment to Taylor’s amendment that would have the city continue to look at all four candidates, keeping Joyce Parker, deputy state treasurer for the state of Michigan, and Eric Wobster, city manager of Sandusky, Ohio, in the running for the position..
Some members of the council — such as Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3 — advocated for complete agreement on the resolution. Grand said a strong consensus from the city on the choice for city administrator is vital for work to get done.
“I think it is critical to the success of whoever leads this organization as the administrator that there is consensus at the council level,” Grand said. “I think it does (Crawford) a disservice to not go through with the process and get the information that we need so that everyone is behind the person to help move our city forward for the long term.”
While saying she would vote in favor of the resolution for the sake of consensus, Councilmember Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, said she intends for the process to wrap up in three weeks.
“I sense in the comments tonight that we already have a consensus surrounding our 15-year, loyal public servant Tom Crawford, who has served as city administrator not once but three times, trusted by three separate councils,” Bannister said.
With the approval of the resolution, a final decision of who will fill the city administrator role will be discussed at the Sept. 14 city council meeting.
Daily News Editor Barbara Collins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.