Following months of speculation, the City of Ann Arbor released an investigative report Dec. 3 regarding complaints against Assistant City Administrator John Fournier for creating a “hostile work environment” during his time as Acting City Administrator from early August 2021 to late October 2021.
According to the report, the formal complaint was filed Oct. 4 by former Human Resources Director Tom Guajardo, who alleged that Fournier conducted an illegal background check on Guajardo and illegally manipulated city budget and accounting records to deceive the City Council.
The complaint also alleged that Fournier told staff to “intentionally violate state law” regarding the city’s vaccine mandate and engaged in “unfair treatment” of people of color on staff, among other allegations.
The independent investigation was conducted by attorney Jennifer Salvatore, who concluded in the report that Fournier did not violate any law or commit discrimination.
“Based on the above analysis of the facts, law, and relevant City policies, it is my determination that Mr. Fournier has not engaged in conduct that violates the law or any City policy,” Salvatore wrote in the report. “The misconduct that Mr. Guajardo alleges and attributes to Mr. Fournier is simply not supported by the evidence.”
In a statement posted to Facebook, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said the report clears Fournier from the allegations that have been circulating in the community in the last two months.
“The report is a full and unequivocal exoneration,” Taylor wrote. “It concludes that Mr. Fournier’s actions were justified, lawful, consistent with policy, and, to be clear, non-discriminatory. Period.”
Guajardo emailed his complaints to the council on Oct. 1, following up on Oct. 4 with a written report of his allegations and evidence. The following day, Guajardo took a leave of absence to remove himself from the investigation as it was being conducted.
Salvatore also wrote that two members of City Council met with Guajardo soon after his complaint was filed and disclosed private and sensitive information from a closed session Council meeting, specifically regarding legal advice given to the council as to whether or not Fournier should be placed on administrative leave throughout the investigation.
“In terms of moving forward, there is clearly a breakdown in the relationship among two important members of the City’s Executive team,” Salvatore wrote. “This is problematic for the City and will need to be thoughtfully addressed.”
While the report does not mention the two members of Council by name, Councilmembers Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, and Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, acknowledged they were the members mentioned in the reports. In a blog post, Nelson wrote the allegations written in the report were defamatory and factually incorrect.
“When this whistleblower communicated with all of Council (twice), pleading for immediate, temporary workplace protections, I wrote and sponsored a resolution to protect him,” Nelson wrote. “It was the first time I had ever met him outside of a public meeting. We discussed facts that were well within the public record. I did not meet with the whistleblower any further, either during or after the beginning of investigation. I shared all of this with the investigator when she questioned me.”
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Taylor and councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 4, brought forth a resolution to approve 2022 Council Committee appointments. The proposal removes both Ramlawi and Nelson from the Council’s Budget and Labor Committees, and also removes Ramlawi from the Council Administration Committee.
“I feel that this is retaliation, punitive, trumponian, and poor government,” Ramlawi said at the Monday meeting. “I have received dozens of emails, calls in support. I remember being called beneath contempt earlier this year as well. I’ve done nothing wrong. There has not been an investigation done on my actions. It’s been a one-sided story.”
The resolution was approved 7-4, with councilmembers Nelson, Ramlawi, Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, and Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2 voting no.
“Service on these particular committees requires trust,” councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, said at the meeting. “What is not in question is that two councilmembers who have since self-identified themselves to be councilmember Ramlawi and Nelson contacted the witness of an independent investigation, and immediately thereafter that employee removed themself from employment, causing disruption to city services and impeding the investigation itself.”
In the final remarks of the report, Salvatore wrote Nelson and Ramlawi’s actions had escalated the issue.
“The characterization of the closed session discussion that was given to Mr. Guajardo led Mr. Guajardo to conclude that the City’s legal department had pre-judged the merits of his complaint,” Salvatore wrote. “And what was relayed at that meeting seems to be the contributing cause of Mr. Guajardo feeling the need to suddenly remove himself from the work environment on October 5, 2021 – an act that, while perhaps understandable in context, was disruptive to City business.”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, Fournier said he is looking forward to continuing his current role as assistant city attorney.
“I am glad the investigation is over and the investigator concluded that not only are the claims made against me not credible, but they have been proven conclusively false—The complaint was a complete fabrication,” Fournier wrote. “I’m looking forward to just focusing on my job and the City.”
Fournier initially replaced former City Administrator Tom Crawford after his resignation due to allegations of discrimination in the workplace. Fournier continues to work for the city as the Assistant City Administrator, a job he first began in April 2019. The job of ICA is now filled by Milton Dohoney, the first Black city administrator in more than 40 years.
On Dec. 6, Guajardo announced on Twitter that he would be joining the University of Michigan as Human Resources Director, the same position he held for the government of Ann Arbor.
Guajardo did not respond for comment in time for publication.
Daily Staff Reporter Isabella Kassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.