Four candidates emerge for vacant City Administrator position

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 - 9:38pm

The City of Ann Arbor announced its four final city administrator candidates Tuesday: Thomas Couch of Georgia, Paul Fetherston of North Carolina, Howard Lazarus of Texas and Christian Sigman of Ohio.

The announcement comes five months after the previous city administrator, Steve Powers, left his position to become the city manager of Salem, Oregon. Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor chief financial officer, has been acting as interim administrator during the search process.

City Communications Manager Lisa Wondrash declined to comment beyond the city's press release.

Couch has been the city manager of Bulloch County, Georgia for the past 12 years. The county has a population of more than 69,000 residents and is home to Georgia Southern University. Under his leadership, the county has expanded their local airport, improved public transportation and increased recycling and energy efficiency efforts, according to the city’s website. Couch holds a master's degree in public administration from Georgia State University and an undergraduate degree from Eastern Michigan University.

Couch, along with other candidates, could not be reached for immediate comment.

Fetherston is the assistant city manager of Asheville, North Carolina and former deputy city manager of Boulder, Colorado. The city of Asheville, where Fetherston currently works, prioritizes continuous improvement through integrity and diversity. According to the press release, Fetherston holds a law degree from Western New England University School of Law and an undergraduate degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Lazarus has been the public works director as well as the interim assistant city manager of Austin, Texas, as well as director of engineering for Newark, New Jersey. Currently, Lazarus supervises 730 full-time and part-time/seasonal employees as the public works director of Austin, Texas, overseeing a department that has an annual operating budget of $80 million. Lazarus holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and an undergraduate degree from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Sigman is the city administrator of Hamilton County, Ohio and former budgeting director in Cincinnati and the District of Columbia. During his time as city administrator of Hamilton County, he prepared balanced budgets in economic troubles that resulted in the loss of one-third of the county’s workforce. He holds a master's degree in public administration from Indiana University and undergraduate degree also from Indiana University.

The final four candidates were identified by a headhunting firm contracted by the city. A series of hiring interviews will now be carried out by city staff through mid-April, and the City Council will publicly interview them on April 16 using procedures agreed upon by the council’s administration committee.

The search process began in October 2015 when the council voted to raise the position’s salary from $160,000 per year to $175,000 after a professional search firm concluded the average annual salary for administrators of similarly sized cities is $167,000.

During his exit in 2015, Powers told the council he wishes for his successor to continue to uphold the values of the city.

“An administrator needs to view the city as more than just police and fire,” Powers 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.”