The Michigan Daily sat down with Milton Dohoney, Ann Arbor’s newly appointed interim city administrator, ahead of his first appearance at City Council Monday. Dohoney discussed his management style and diversity, equity and inclusion expectations among City staff.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The Michigan Daily: You have served in various city manager roles in Arizona, Ohio and Kentucky. What have you learned from your experiences in municipal management that will help you in this role as Ann Arbor’s interim city administrator?
Milton Dohoney: The common denominator that you find in all the communities I worked in — and I think really any community in America — is (that) the issues are the same. The question is magnitude and scale. So in the other places that I’ve worked, some of them were much, much larger than Ann Arbor.
But you’re still talking about affordable housing, you’re still talking about the instance where there was a major university-town relationship, you’re still talking about growth, you’re still talking about climate. So the issues and my experience in working on those in other places are valuable as I come to Ann Arbor, and work with the community, the City Council and the staff here in order to advance the City.
TMD: Given that your tenure in Ann Arbor is 11-15 months, what are some policies and projects you plan to implement?
MD: My intention was to come here and function, not as a quote interim city administrator, but to function as the administrator, to handle the day-to-day affairs as I would if I were going to be here for 20 years. And so in doing that, it allows me to bring a fresh outside look at how we’re structured, how we’re doing the work (and) to examine closely the issues that we’re trying to work through.
So I don’t come with a predetermined set of, “Here’s what my goals are.” Those are going to be developed as I engage more with the staff and with the policymakers and with the community. Essentially, what does Ann Arbor need, and what can I do to help address the need that I see?
TMD: Prior to your appointment as interim city administrator, allegations of “hostile” and “discriminatory” work environments have been brought forth against your predecessors. How do you plan on promoting a positive work environment that supports and amplifies minority voices and encourages collaboration among City staff?
MD: It was essential for me to make clear the principles or foundation upon which I stand, even if those other things had not happened. And so on the very first day that I got here, I had a message that went out to our entire workforce, where I talked about the importance of integrity, of ethical behavior, of civility at all times, of working in a collaborative fashion. I pledged to the staff that as the city administrator, it’s incumbent upon me to be a communicator with them, so that I’m sharing information about what our big picture is (and) what direction we’re headed.
In the current climate, with social media, I can’t promise that they will always hear something from me first, because it’s just not practical. But on all of the key things, they would hear something from the city administrator, they would be included, they would be in the know, if you will, about where we’re headed and the challenges that we’re facing.
In addition, the first day I talked with all 11 elected officials, I convened with my executive team, and by the end of this week — which will be my second week on the job — I’ve already started to build relationships with external stakeholders. More to your point, minority voices and all voices within the municipal structure need to be treated with respect and handled equitably. And so I’m here to ensure that we do that.
TMD: You mentioned in the public interviews for City Administrator that when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, fostering an equitable and inclusive workforce and community is not just about how and who the City hires, but implementing equal disciplinary processes for all staff. How do you plan to implement DEI staff training and uphold expectations for City staff?
MD: It begins with looking at data if you have it and if you don’t currently have it, starting to track data points that will help fill in the picture that’s in front of you. So does there appear to be disparate treatment when it comes to training opportunities? Is there some equity gap when it comes to the administration of discipline within the organization? The data will tell you that. And so if your picture is good, then you’re going to have discipline within the organization.
We’re simply expecting that it’s going to be handled appropriately across the board. Not with some groups getting more severe discipline than others or some segments not being afforded the opportunity to get trained in order to experience upward mobility. And so, being data influenced or data-driven is a key aspect of how you go about addressing that.
TMD: You’ve previously said that you value communication and building relationships with the community as your management style. How do you plan to engage with community organizations and inform the community of your policy goals?
MD: That area has become a lot more challenging because of COVID. In my whole history of working in municipal government, (in) the best and strongest relationships I’ve had, I’ve been able to build over time through face-to-face engagement. So if the pandemic is going to mean for the next foreseeable set of months or even longer, we’re all relegated to Zoom meetings or team meetings, it’s gonna be harder, but it means that I’ve got to find different ways to try to be accessible to people. So whether that’s phone calls or Zoom meetings or if we can meet in an environment where we can be socially distanced, but with masks, etc., but able to at least be face to face, I welcome doing all of that.
I have heard from a few community leaders or stakeholders before arriving. I’m hearing from a few more now that I’m here. So I have to be open and willing to do it. I am. I have to be willing to listen to input that may be critical of how we’re doing our jobs, or how we have done service delivery. I’m open to that. And I need to be willing to work collaboratively with community stakeholders to figure out solutions for making it better. And I am committed to doing that. So I think the community will receive me well, upon hearing that and if I’m consistent with what I’m saying.
TMD: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MD: I would like to add that it’s imperative that the City of Ann Arbor continue having a positive working relationship with the University. I think that given the proximity of our footprints where we sort of intertwine in different parts of the City, it’s extremely important for the residents here that there be a good working relationship between the City and the University population. So I’m committed to working on that too.
TMD: We’d like to end on a fun note: Since you’ve moved to Michigan, what has been your favorite thing to do in Ann Arbor this fall?
MD: Find LA Fitness is about two miles from City Hall. Because I didn’t know if there was one here! Some of our nights are late so you can’t always go, but on the weekends I can have long workouts. It’s a great thing, and then secondly is trying to figure out what the best restaurants are and where they’re located.