Ann Arbor City Council approves plan for city administrator search

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 - 2:37am

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Courtesy of Carter Howe

The Ann Arbor City Council held a special session Monday night and approved a new resolution that will guide the city’s search for a new city administrator. Apart from two brief statements during the public comment period, the resolution was the only public agenda item. After the vote, the council held a closed session to discuss pending litigation in State v. Gelman, a case in Washtenaw County Circuit Court in which the city of Ann Arbor is an intervening party.

In late February, City Council voted to fire City Administrator Howard Lazarus without cause. The vote passed 7-2. After gathering over 1,500 pages of emails, MLive cited Lazarus’s search for jobs elsewhere and political motives as possible reasons for his termination. 

The resolution, which outlined the timeline and process of the city administrator search, was prepared by the Council Administration Committee with assistance from Amy Cell, a consultant and professional recruiter who has helped other cities in Michigan recruit candidates for senior administrative positions.

Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, a member of the Council Administration Committee, said all members of the committee recommended adopting the resolution and enlisting Cell’s help as part of the search.

“We believe it’s a very good process that includes the direct participation of both staff and the community and we believe the timeline is reasonable and appropriate as well,” Lumm said.

Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, expressed her confidence in the resolution and Cell, stating that she wanted to allay concerns about the search she had seen on social media.

“(The) administrative committee had a lengthy discussion and we have complete confidence in Amy Cell,” Griswold said. “She has done this before and I believe that she has a realistic timeline and will accomplish the project satisfactorily within that timeline.” 

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, raised concerns that the timeline for the search was too short.

“Is she (Amy Cell) comfortable that these fence posts can be met?” Ramlawi said. “It’s a pretty aggressive timeline and a pretty important search.” 

Cell said that a timeline of the same length had worked for similar searches. The timeline includes about four weeks to promote the position and for candidates to submit applications. It also includes a week for Cell and a team of about five people to process applications, after which detailed candidate information will be sent to the council, who will then decide whom to interview.

Additionally, Cell stated that lengthening the process can actually be detrimental to the search since candidates may be applying to other jobs in other municipalities as well.

“This a process and timing that I’ve used in the past and I’m very comfortable with it,” Cell said. “The risk of stretching out the process is that oftentimes candidates can be engaged with multiple communities and I don’t want to lose out on anyone so having a streamlined efficient and thorough process is something that I try to balance out all those considerations.” 

Cell said the city could expect to see between 100 and 150 applicants in the search because of Ann Arbor’s popularity, though she only expects only six to eight to meet the minimum criteria. The council will then select approximately two to six candidates to interview, though there is no limit on how many candidates the council can interview.

Councilmember Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, questioned if a search was even necessary and wondered why the council couldn’t just stick to its existing plan. However, other members of the council seemed unclear on what she meant. Mayor Christorpher Taylor responded to Bannister's concerns. 

“You reference a plan and I’m unaware of any plan … in order to get the best person for the job, an organization tends to put together a fulsome search and I think that was the sense of the committee,” Taylor said. 

Councilman Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, inquired as to whether the council could institute a so-called “Rooney rule” as part of the search. Named after Dan Rooney, the longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who instituted such a policy, a Rooney rule requires that minority candidates be interviewed for high level positions within an organization. However, it does not establish diversity quotas.

Cell said she is in support of having a diverse candidate pool.

“Just to mention I think the last six significant municipal searches that I’ve done…all of them had candidate pools that had people of color and or females and three of those selections resulted in the candidate being hired that was a female or a person of color, so I applaud the council’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and look forward to fulfilling that request,” Cell said. 

Ultimately, the resolution was approved unanimously.  

Daily Staff Reporter Carter Howe can be reached at tcbhowe@umich.edu.