Ann Arbor City Council conducted public interviews with Interim City Administrator candidates Peter Burchard and Milton Dohoney on Tuesday evening. The city is looking to fill the position temporarily while they prepare a recruitment process to find a permanent City Administrator.
Previous City Administrator Tom Crawford stepped down following a council vote on July 20 to terminate his employment and release a nine-page report detailing allegations that Crawford made multiple racially insensitive comments, referred to gender-based stereotyping and cautioned against hiring minorities.
City Council selected Burchard and Dohoney at a closed session meeting on Sept. 13. Director of Human Resources Tom Guajardo moderated the interviews and began the panel with candidate Burchard.
A current consultant for municipalities, Burchard previously held the position of City Manager in Naperville, Ill. When Guajardo asked how Burchard would describe his leadership style in regards to the council and city staff, Burchard said he believes in holding public service leaders accountable, specifically concerning how the council treats citizens.
“We are accountable to each other, we are accountable to you, we are accountable to the citizens,” Burchard said. “We’ve got to demonstrate that every single day. And so, as we treat each other we will treat the citizens the exact same way.”
Burchard said he believes in listening to elected officials’ opinions so long as the council comments are based on the subject at hand.
“They need to be based on what you are trying to resolve as a board, as a council,” Burchard said. “There’s very important principles in terms of governance, where if it’s crossed the line and is personal, you’re going to have a tough time, and it’s in your laps to figure out what you’re going to do about that.”
Burchard also spoke on his first impressions reading Ann Arbor’s city budget. Burchard encouraged the council to set clear priorities and a multi-year financial plan to understand what goals are sustainable.
“When you look across your entire set of accounting books and documents there, I think that there are a couple of concerns in terms of your long-term commitments with employment benefits,” Burchard said. “And (there’s) potential that those types of costs can drag on your ability to pull off the types of goals you want to pull off with capital spending, with affordable housing, your mission to put those five million dollars into climate issues in the current fiscal year, and a lot of other initiatives that are in the budget.”
Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, one of the council liaisons for the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, asked Burchard to speak on his intent to engage with community policing. Burchard said he believes all complaints issued against a police officer should be handled externally and within the knowledge of the citizen’s review board.
“If there’s a high profile incident in the police department and a citizen’s review board is in the dark, there’s something wrong,” Burchard said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. There should be enough trust there that important calls could be made and people can be brought in, with the caveat of telling the mayor and the City Council first, and let them call the shots as to who else gets informed.”
Dohoney was previously the Assistant City Manager of Phoenix, Ariz. and the City Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Cincinnati, Ohio. Considering his own leadership style, Dohoney said he believed in integrity, ethical behavior and accountability. He assured the council he would prioritize making a strong relationship with staff from his first day as Interim City Administrator.
“If you choose me, I’m not coming there with the mindset I’m just going to sit idle, embrace status quo and sit there for 12 months until you’re ready to move on,” Dohoney said. “And so I’m going to engage the staff (and) ensure they know I embrace the collaborative style. I’ve got to be inclusive in how I go about decision-making. I’m not defensive when people want to challenge or ask questions about why I’ve made a decision. And they’re going to know right away that just doing enough to get by is inconsistent with how I operate.”
In the event of a divided council, Dohoney said he would provide professional advice and attempt to integrate all councilmember opinions on what is best for each ward into the majority decision.
“Even though we take action based on the majority of council, I do believe there are ways in delivering the work product that you may be able to apprehend some considerations from the minority side of the vote,” Dohoney said. “So you’re still consistent with what the majority is asking for, but you may be able to weave in some other things that people that were on the minority side of that vote would like to see happen.”
Dohoney also spoke on his intent to engage with community policing and ICPOC. He said he was involved in police reform in both Cincinnati and Phoenix and believes law enforcement needs to evolve as a system.
“Policing is in need of transformative change,” Dohoney said. “And while I acknowledge that we do need change on behalf of both the community and law enforcement, in my opinion, law enforcement has to move a little bit more. Because they’re the ones with the authority; they have the badge, they have the weapon.”
When asked how he would approach an issue he disagreed with the council on, Dohoney said he believed the City Administrator should present professional judgement on issues, despite their personal philosophies and preferences.
“If you’re going to be in city management, you learn very quickly it’s not about you,” Dohoney said. “It’s not about your agenda, it’s not about what you may want. That’s not what we do. We implement the vision and direction of the policymakers, and that is what I would do if you invite me to Ann Arbor.”
The council will meet on Sept. 27 for a special session to discuss City Administrator finalists.
Daily Staff Reporter Vanessa Kiefer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.