Search for Ann Arbor city administrator underway

Monday, October 12, 2015 - 6:53pm

City Administrator Steve Powers at a City Council meeting at Larcom City Hall last Monday.

City Administrator Steve Powers at a City Council meeting at Larcom City Hall last Monday. Buy this photo
Claire Abdo/Daily

 

The search is underway for Ann Arbor’s next city administrator.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted last week to authorize the Council Administration Committee to serve as a five-person search party for a new city administrator. Steve Powers, the current city administrator, announced plans in August to leave the post for a new job as city manager in Salem, Ore. He is set to depart in November. 

“It’s a larger community than Ann Arbor and a professional opportunity that will help me in my professional development,” Powers said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “It’s a larger organization, with more responsibilities and opportunities to help a community and help a council accomplish its policy goals and policy agenda.”

Powers said he has enjoyed working with Ann Arbor’s city staff and council.

“I’ve been here a little over four years, and it’s gone by fast,” Powers said. “It’s been an enjoyable four years.”

The administration committee, comprised of Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) and Councilmembers Sabra Briere (D­–Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) and Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4), will narrow down the list of potential applicants for the post.

Briere said Powers’ successor will have big shoes to fill.

“The biggest challenge we face is looking for someone who will build on what Steve Powers has already done and that’s a challenge,” she said.

In prior years, the council appointed a search committee separate from the standing administration committee. During the search for Powers, a four-person group of council members conducted the search.

“The process is not that different than last time,” Taylor said in an interview. “It changed because we wanted an extra council member to broaden the set of inputs into the search process.”

Briere said the process has also changed because the administration committee is responsible for evaluating the city administrator’s job performance. Upon Powers’ departure, the committee will contact members of staff and City Council to compile an exit evaluation.

“To take advantage of the council members who are already conducting the evaluation seems efficient,” she said.

The committee, with the assistance of a search firm, will narrow the national search to about three candidates. From there, finalists will participate in an interview with each of the council members, as well as public panels and meetings involving city employees, businesses and the Ann Arbor community.

“The council is now starting to develop a recruitment profile for the position that will then be made available nationally and candidates will be encouraged to consider the wonderful opportunity that Ann Arbor provides,” Powers said.

At last Monday’s meeting, there were some concerns regarding the search procedure. Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) said she did not feel the process was inclusive enough.

“I’ve been through other city administrator searches and actually, I feel that already the process is not terribly inclusive as it could be,” Lumm told the council last Monday. “Previously when I sat here, we engaged all the council members and administrator profiles, we engaged the community.”

Other council members responded to Lumm’s concerns and said they felt the process was inclusive enough for the initial stages of the search. The council will have the chance to speak with each of the final candidates and hold public interviews. The final decision is also up to a vote of the council as a whole.

In the past, senior members of City Council comprised the administration committee. This time, the committee members’ levels of expertise and seniority vary.

“Getting that cross section of experience and expectations has already been done for the admin committee and that was what we were looking for the last time we did this search,” Briere said.

On Monday, the council also approved the committee’s recommendation to hire the executive search firm, Affion Public, which was the same search firm hired to find Powers. The firm was recommended to the council by Human Resources Director Robyn Wilkerson.

The HR department told the administration committee that surveying for other search firms might delay the process by six weeks.

“Affion has done a number of employee searches successfully for the city in the past, and they were one of the three different search firms that were considered who had a record of success with the city,” Briere said. “They were selected in part because of that record of success and because they had the staffing capacity to do a thorough but rapid search.”

The committee has created a job description for the position and has sent it to the council for review. Once the council has approved the job description, Affion will create a profile for the position and conduct a national search.

“The profile is created after the firm talks to council members, staff and members of the public,” Taylor said.

The council also approved a proposal Monday night to raise the posted salary for the position from $160,000 to $175,000. The HR department found the median salary for city administrators in cities with populations between 100,000 and 249,000 was about $167,000. The council voted to raise the salary in hopes of drawing top-tier candidates.

In deciding to switch jobs, Powers accepted a pay raise of more than $50,000. He will now earn $210,000 a year, with added perks. When Powers first began his role as city administrator in 2011, he was earning $145,000 a year. In October 2014, Powers’ pay was raised by $14,500 to $159,500.

Ann Arbor’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Crawford will serve as interim city administrator.

He will receive a pay raise of about $1,500 a month for the duration of the interim posting. Taylor said the timeline for the search process is still up in the air.

“The search process will take a good amount of time,” he said. “It’s going to take us a couple of months.”

Powers said his successor has to be able to view Ann Arbor for its values and unique characteristics.

“An administrator needs to view the city as more than just police and fire,” he said. “It is a community that has values that are very important to a council and the administrator is expected to believe in an organization that is consistent with those values.”