The city of Ann Arbor held open interviews with city administrator candidates Thursday evening to fill the currently vacated position. City Council voted to fire former City Administrator Howard Lazarus without cause in February.
Finalists for the position include Tom Crawford, interim Ann Arbor city administrator and chief financial officer; Joyce Parker, deputy state treasurer for the state of Michigan; Cara Pavlicek, village manager of Oak Park, Illinois; and Eric Wobster, city manager of Sandusky, Ohio.
During a February meeting, the council voted 7-4 on a resolution sponsored by Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, and Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, to fire Lazarus without cause. Lazarus had been city administrator in Ann Arbor since 2016.
At the meeting, Eaton said the decision to fire Lazarus came after Lazarus submitted an application to become a city manager in Gainesville, Florida in September 2019. Lazarus was one of five finalists for the position. Eaton said the application discussed issues with councilmembers and offended Lazarus’s colleagues.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, along with Councilmembers Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, and Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, all voted against the resolution, calling Lazarus’s termination a political decision made out of hostility toward the city administrator.
Council selected the four finalists at a closed session on Aug. 10. The candidates will be discussed by the council again at a special session on Aug. 24.
Crawford became the interim Ann Arbor City Administrator following Lazarus’s termination. He has served as the chief financial officer for the city of Ann Arbor since 2004 and previously worked for Ford Motor Company.
When Taylor asked him how to best encourage innovation among city staff, Crawford emphasized the importance of giving employees the space to work independently.
“Innovation comes from a lot of intersections of different thoughts outside of yourself typically,” Crawford said. “So it’s really having a positive work environment and giving people room to do their job and rewarding that too.”
Crawford elaborated on how he views the staff’s role, explaining the fundamental relationship between the council and the staff.
“Staff’s role is to be professional above all else,” Crawford said. “We need to have our professional view and we’re going to share it. Council has the obligation to challenge us on that and poke at it, seeing if we considered everything and to see if there’s other ideas out there that we haven’t thought of.”
In his final remarks, Crawford spoke about the lessons he learned from his interim job and his eagerness to maintain his relationship with the community.
“This is my third trip in the interim seat,” Crawford said. “I’ve learned something every time I’ve done it. I will learn something if you see your way to give me this job — I will continue to learn. I come to this job with a genuine passion for public service with a real interest in this community.”
Parker has been the deputy state treasurer for the state of Michigan since 2019. Previously, she held positions as the president and chief executive officer of The Municipal Group, assistant city manager of the city of Jackson, township manager of Buena Vista Charter Township, city manager of Inkster and Saginaw and community development director of Flint.
Parker said she believes that her experiences as a Washtenaw County resident are relevant to the position.
“I’ve been a resident in the county for close to 20 years,” Parker said. “It might be an excellent opportunity to work in the community where I live and potentially make a difference in terms of working with the city and bringing to the city the skills and the experience that I’ve had and developed over the years in local government management.”
Parker said the city administrator’s role is to act as an intermediary between City Council and city staff.
“The city administrator works as a liaison to some extent between the city council and members of the city staff itself in order to make sure the coordination is in place and that the overall operation of the city is beneficial as it relates to that level of coordination,” Parker said.
Parker also discussed her intended methods, saying she favors strategic planning and a participatory leadership approach. Parker also spoke about the importance of the city administrator being transparent and accessible to the public.
“We work in a public setting and we work as public servants and as a result, it’s important to be open and not be perceived as being nonresponsive to the public,” Parker said. “That’s something I would want to communicate with the public early in the process.”
Pavlicek has served as the village manager of Oak Park, Illinois since 2012, also working as the interim manager there while she was a department director. She has previously held positions as village manager in Downers Grove, Illinois and city administrator in La Vista, Nebraska.
“What I bring to the table is those experiences over the past 30 years, working in multiple organizations that have approached the really tough issues of city government,” Pavlicek said. “City government is complex, it’s not something for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and I see that Ann Arbor wants to work on a lot of those tough issues that I’m passionate about and I’ve learned along the way.”
Pavlicek said she would foster staff innovation by embracing and learning from mistakes.
“One of the most important things you can do to encourage people to be innovative and excel is to accept failure,” Pavlicek said. “Organizations that are able to not overreact when something goes wrong but say, ‘What did we learn from this?’ — that’s incredibly important and I think that’s a real key to successful and innovative organizations.”
Councilmember Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, asked Pavlicek how the city administrator position could ensure that staff can provide high quality services to residents. Pavlicek elaborated on the role of technology within the community.
“Ann Arbor is no different than other cities in that the modernization of the delivery of public services is at the forefront of what we all have to be focusing on over the next few years,” Pavlicek said. “We’re certainly in a time period where technology is shifting.”
Since 2014, Wobster has served as the city manager of Sandusky, Ohio. Previously, he worked as the executive director of Ohio City Incorporated and served as the special projects manager to the Mayor of Cleveland.
Like Parker, Wobster said transparency with constituents is especially important.
“I know Ann Arbor is a community that demands transparency of its elective officials,” Wobster said. “One of the things that I do not believe that (Sandusky) has had challenges with is being transparent and so I continue that culture, even at times when it can be frustrating.”
When asked by Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, how the city administrator would handle a situation requiring resources from another initiative, Wobster highlighted his dedication to effective communication between staff and the council.
“I hope that oftentimes if there’s disagreement amongst council or between Council and staff that those things can be resolved before there is a direction given by the council,” Wobster said. “I hope that if the council were going to make that directive that they’d be doing so in light of a strategic plan that’s been set by the city.”
Wobster then spoke about his love for Ann Arbor and his concerns for the future of the city.
“It’s already this special and iconic place, but it does feel as if its future is at stake,” Wobster said. “Whether that’s addressing the affordability issues … or this climate change plan or the need to address social justice and equity issues. I look at Ann Arbor as the pacesetter for the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the country.”
Daily Staff Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.