The Ann Arbor City Council met Monday night at Larcom City Hall to discuss the appointment of an interim City Administrator and the reinstatement of Police Chief Michael Cox.
Former City Administrator Howard Lazarus placed Cox on leave Feb. 8 for two weeks due to “a personnel matter.”
Members of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission and local activists criticized the city for the lack of transparency surrounding Cox’s placement on administrative leave.
During public comment, Ann Arbor resident Shirley Beckley expressed concern and anger.
“As a senior member of this city for 77 years, I found it very hurtful that I could not find out what was going on with our police chief,” Beckley said. “I found it very hurtful and a slap in the face that we have a commission, but they didn’t know anything.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor supported the resolution to terminate the remaining period of Cox’s administrative leave, which passed unanimously.
“A good leader owns mistakes and learns from them,” Taylor said. “Chief Cox cares deeply about policing, he cares deeply about the police department, he cares deeply about the community. He has apologized and he has committed to create a candid and more commutative workplace. And I believe he can do these things and I believe the police department will work with him.”
According to a report from the law firm Miller Canfield, which conducted an external investigation of the matter, Cox went on leave after allegations he fostered a hostile work environment and that employees were concerned about retaliation. Cox was also accused of insubordination.
According to the report, an unnamed police lieutenant undertook two investigations into parking officers improperly voiding tickets and said she felt pressured by Cox to not recommend disciplinary actions against them. She said Cox’s involvement made her feel “uncomfortable.”
The Miller Canfield report determined there was “nothing inherently wrong with the Chief asking for progress reports regarding the investigations, asking questions regarding the Lieutenant’s approach, or making suggestions.” It also did not find evidence Cox “was behaving in such a way (yelling, etc.) as to create a hostile work environment,” but noted “there is evidence that people feared retaliation by the Chief, and they had a legitimate basis for that fear, whether or not that was the Chief’s intent.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, urged the community to move forward from the incident.
“We are a community that’s bigger than one person, or one position, or one commission or one council,” Ramlawi said.
Council also voted unanimously to appoint Tom Crawford as interim City Administrator after Lazarus, who served as City Administrator since 2016, was terminated without cause last month. Crawford currently serves as Ann Arbor’s Chief Financial Officer and has served twice as interim City Administrator, first in 2011 and again between 2015-2016.
The resolution that fired Lazarus guarantees a severance of one year’s salary, adding up to $223,600, with an additional lump sum of $1,000.
During public comment, Ann Arbor resident Peter Houk expressed concern for the expenditures that will result from an increase in Crawford’s salary with the new role and severance pay for Lazurus.
“To all who voted in favor of the City Administrator’s termination agreement, I’m very disappointed with what you did,” Houk said. “We do not have money to burn. Perhaps this amount seems small to you when compared with the overall city budget, but it’s still a quarter of a million dollars. And perhaps that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, but it does to me.”
Near the end of the meeting, the council considered a proposed housing development called The Standard, slated for construction on S. Main Street. The development will take the place of old DTE Energy office space and parking lot on the site, and it will have 218 apartments with 421 bedrooms. While the plan was ultimately approved by the council, some council members were dissatisfied. Ramlawi specifically noted the potential consequences for affordable housing and climate action.
“I am disappointed in this project because it really doesn’t excite me a whole lot when it comes to the affordable housing aspects, doesn’t excite me when it comes to the climate action goals we have. We’re tearing down a building that is younger than I am,” Ramlawi said.
Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, was the only member of council to vote against the proposed housing development.
“The private sector’s picking up the slack for the University’s growth, and it’s unfortunate that they’re not picking it up in a way that is to our new standards,” Hayner said.
Reporter Alec Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been updated to note Cox was placed on leave for a personnel matter, not a personal matter, and to include more details from the Miller Canfield report.