Ann Arbor City Council members approved a resolution to hire Howard Lazarus as city administrator at Monday’s meeting.
The previous city administrator, Steve Powers, left his position to become the city manager of Salem, Ore. in October 2015. Tom Crawford, city chief financial officer, has been acting as interim city manager since then.
Lazarus formerly served as the public works director and interim assistant city manager of Austin, Texas. As publics work director, Lazarus currently supervises 730 full-time and part-time/seasonal employees and oversees a department that has an annual operating budget of $80 million.
At a Thursday meet-and-greet event, Lazarus spoke with the Daily about his experience balancing the relationship between the city of Austin and the University of Texas, and how he hoped to bring his approach to Ann Arbor.
The decision came after intense debate over four candidates found through a nationwide search. Councilmember Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4) said it was difficult choosing the applicant with the right balance of experience and leadership.
“It was a challenging process, but a good process,” Krapohl said. “There was a lot of discussion in the admin committee for pluses and minuses of all the candidates. We had an outstanding candidate pool. It was a challenging decision to make.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) also said each candidate was highly qualified and the position of city administrator could have gone to any one of the four.
“Any one of the candidates who have come to us would, I believe, serve here with true success and distinction,” he said. “The presentations and interviews were impressive and they ratified the proper esteem with which these public servants are held in their home communities.”
The council also heard Interim City Administrator Tom Crawford’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017. The plan prioritizes accessory dwelling units, a plan to create a greenway in downtown Ann Arbor, a forestry rebuilding program, repairs and reconstruction of roads and safe systems for auto, pedestrian and bike users.
The budget plan also allocates funds for the Ann Arbor Connector — a proposed light rail project — streetlight assessment and replacement and construction of a sidewalk along Stone School Road.
Overall, the budget recommends $102,839,364 of expenditures and projects a revenue of $99,625,211, resulting in an expected deficit of $3,214,153.
The council additionally approved the building site plan and development agreement of new student housing on 603 East Huron St.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said the developer Core Spaces’ efforts to reach out to and work together with the neighborhood surrounding the proposed building were well reviewed by the neighborhood residents.
“(In the past) there have been so many developments where we listened to impact statements from neighbor after neighbor after neighbor telling us how the developer has failed to take in consideration … the impact of their building on the existing neighborhood,” she said. “It’s refreshing to hear someone propose a building that does not create such fear and anger in the people most closely affected by (the building).”
Briere said the developer was helpful in working with the residents to ensure their changes would not be opposed.
“That willingness to work with the neighborhood, to plan in collaboration, to discuss and to listen to making changes was very impressive to the planning commission,” she added.
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) compared Core Spaces’ approach with that of Foundry Lofts.
“Foundry was a knock-down-drag-out where we looked for ways to address legitimate citizen concerns,” he said. “But that fight — it was a long fight — ended up in them missing some of their deadlines and it pushed back occupancy for a year.”
He pointed out how Core Spaces’ approach benefitted the developers themselves. He said that when a developer such as Core Spaces works with the community and follows and understands the intention of regulations, it can move the process quickly and smoothly.
“I think that’s a lesson that I hope other developers learn from this experience,” he said.