Disruption, Dysfunction, and Dismay: Ann Arbor’s Governmental Power Struggle (3)

We have just witnessed a classic power grab, using dubious methods to dislodge a responsible administrator. Will the City of Ann Arbor ever be the same? Probably not, if the makers of these events are successful.

Ann Arbor City Administrator Tom Crawford

The news hit the community like a bomb. With almost no warning (the July 20 agenda item was posted just the day before) and certainly no foreshadowing, suddenly we learned that our respected and trusted City Administrator was being terminated. Evidently the action was preceded by a couple of closed Council Sessions (these are confidential and secret and do not appear on the City’s calendar). The July 20 meeting provided little information except that he had been accused of insensitive and inappropriate speech toward employees. The report (dated June 29) from an attorney who had been contracted to investigate, Jennifer B. Salvatore, was subsequently released in redacted form after a vote from Council. This news story summarizes some of the report.

Citizens reacted with shock. Of all the City officials we have known for years and rely on, Mr. Crawford stands out. I personally did not agree with him on all counts (he tended to value tax base over other values) but I could always know that his work and conclusions were based on solid fact and knowledge. At a subsequent meeting, public comment was a flood of objection (though not universal).

Councilmembers hastened to explain. Here are three posts with discussion.

Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, 4th Ward

Elizabeth Nelson did not support the move. In a blog post  (An Irresponsible Termination) that contained an extensive analysis together with a comprehensive list of source material, she concludes:

A majority of Council would like the community to believe that the decision to terminate Mr. Crawford’s employment was supported by facts, consistent with recommendations, and dictated by city policy. None of that is true. A majority of Council introduced the idea of termination, based on disputed reports from five people. A majority of Council intentionally ignored other available information and rejected specific recommendations to seek out more information.

Remarkably, the justification for their decision contradicts the investigation report and introduces new, wholly unsupported suggestions of policy violation. The example offered as evidence of “past practice” is a 2019 incident involving a city employee and the then City Administrator. Investigation into the then City Administrator stands in stark contrast to what was offered to Council this week: in 2019, the 112 page report included written documentation, five times as many witnesses, as well as two years of past job performance appraisals of the then City administrator. The tiny scope of the Crawford investigation and the comparatively enormous consequence of the resulting Council decision do not come close to conforming to past practice.

Note: while it is true that a numerical majority did vote to remove Mr. Crawford, CM Nelson’s use of the word here is an oblique reference to the current majority of Council members who support Mayor Taylor and ousted incumbents in the fall 2020 election to seize power.

Councilmember Erica Briggs, 5th Ward

Erica Briggs, who supported the termination, wrote an explanatory post. CM Briggs expresses some regret but insists that Mr. Crawford is disqualified because he does not seem able to administer DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) matters. Her main focus is on the complaints by the employees. City Administrator Investigation contains some interesting context, especially this history:

Ann Arbor’s current City Administrator is Tom Crawford. He was hired as Administrator in September 2020. He served previously as Chief Financial Officer for the City since 2004. In May 2021, some City employees approached Mayor Taylor regarding statements made by Administrator Crawford that they found insensitive and offensive. They did not bring these concerns to the HR Director because the HR Director reports to the City Administrator. In response, Mayor Taylor sought the advice of City Attorney Stephen Postema and a meeting was held in late May between Mayor Christopher Taylor, Pro Tem Julie Grand, Mr. Postema, and Mr. Crawford. Following this meeting, Mr. Crawford authorized an outside independent investigation by Human Resources (HR) Attorney Jen Salvatore to examine concerns about his behavior brought to the Mayor’s attention. Council was notified of this investigation on June 1st. Council was urged to not jump to any conclusions until the investigation had been completed.

Councilmember Lisa Disch, 1st Ward

Lisa Disch, who voted for the termination, sent not just one but two letters to constituents explaining her position. She clearly had some reservations and used the word “struggled” at two different points. CM Disch is fairly new to City politics and this was a hefty decision for a new CM to make. She concludes:

I struggled with the question whether this pattern of remarks rises to the level that warrants concluding Mr. Crawford’s employment. Council received a memo by Human Resources director Tom Guajardo advising Council that to be consistent with past practice in cases like these, separation would be the proper course of action. I cast my vote based on that advice as well as on my own assessment of the import of Mr. Crawford’s remarks.

An Irregular Proceeding

There are many unusual and irregular aspects to the way this sentence was rolled out. One of them is the haste with which it was executed. You might have thought Mr. Crawford was guilty of assault, combined with embezzlement, from the haste in which he was removed from his position of trust and responsibility. The July 20 resolution (item DC 7b) dictated “That the City Attorney work to establish the details of the conclusion of Mr. Crawford’s employment as the City Administrator by the first Council meeting in August”. (This was exactly two weeks from the date of the resolution.) Crawford was to be terminated by September 1. As we noted in our previous post, Rescuing Ann Arbor’s Budget, there were previous indications that Mr. Crawford’s rigorous budget approaches were causing some friction with Mayor Taylor. This timetable of events is certainly suggestive.

The secrecy with which the process was accomplished was pronounced. At some unknown time in May, evidently a small group of employees approached Mayor Christopher Taylor with some complaints. According to the account by CM Briggs (see above), “a meeting was held in late May between Mayor Christopher Taylor, Pro Tem Julie Grand, Mr. Postema, and Mr. Crawford.” The investigator already had a contract in hand when she began her investigation on June 1. She completed her report on June 29. Council held closed (secret) meetings on July 6 and July 12. Mr. Crawford responded to their concerns with a memo (July 13) in which he expressed remorse for his verbal carelessness, gave himself a five-day suspension, and suggested a plan of study to enhance his DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) skills and practice. Sample: Complete the city’s DEI certificate program. The two remaining sessions are Inclusive Leadership and Tips for Talking about Taboo Topics. It was to no avail.

But at least some Councilmembers were concerned about the secrecy and item DC-7 (introduced by CM Ramlawi and CM Griswold) on the July 20 agenda called for release of a redacted version of the Salvatore report to the public, with the stated goal of transparency. It passed, but not without addition (DC 7b) of the call to terminate the City Administrator.

Investigator Jennifer B. Salvatore

There were many procedural irregularities which would have been questioned strongly if any legal proceedings had been involved. (Mr. Crawford was not represented by an attorney, and he did not contest the decision. He brought in an attorney only to negotiate a separation agreement.)

Ralph McKee, a retired attorney with experience in litigation, wrote to Council with  a detailed analysis of the investigation and the sparse explanation given in an “agenda response memo” by HR Director Tom Guajardo. Mr. McKee has generously given us permission to attach his analysis. I recommend that if you have an interest and time, you read McKee’s statement in whole. But this is not a bad summary:

The investigation conducted by attorney Jennifer Salvatore was incomplete, and her investigative report is incomplete, imprecise, internally inconsistent, and logically flawed. It leaves numerous ambiguities and other flaws that undermine its factual conclusions.

Tom Guajardo, Human Resources Director

McKee contrasts this report with the Stark report, which was prepared in 2019 as an investigation of allegations against the former Human Resources Director, Robyn Wilkerson. Like this incident, the issue was about speech attributed to Ms. Wilkerson. It resulted in her resignation and the management of this situation was implicated (informally and by rumor) in the eventual termination of the former Administrator, Howard Lazarus.  This article in the Ann Arbor News contains many of the details. It also identifies the new Human Resources Director, Tom Guajardo, who began work for the City of Ann Arbor on January 25, 2021.

The Wilkerson case has been used as the antecedent for the judgment of Crawford. But there were significant differences in the investigation and report. In the previous case, there were actual text messages that had been retained. There were 25 witnesses, who were known to the investigator but who were identified only by number.  In contrast, the Salvatore report was based only on comments by 5 employees, and there was no textual evidence. McKee comments (excerpted)

The report, unlike many of this type (such as the Stark report) unfortunately does not identify which witnesses made which complaints and/or other statements.  (I am not suggesting that the witnesses interviewed should be identified by name or position, only, as is typical, by number).  So it is impossible to tell, for example, whether one witness made, say, 5 of the complaints, and the other witnesses one each, or whether one of the witnesses made all of the complaints deemed most serious by Salvatore and/or the agenda response memo. 

… Salvatore uses ambiguous terms like “multiple” and “several”, instead of, say, “3” or, better, “witnesses, 1, 2  and 5”.  This results in some pretty confusing possibilities on key points.  First, “several” typically means 3 or more.  Salvatore notes that “several” witnesses (so, 3 or more) said that they didn’t think they could work with Crawford after the complaints (interestingly, the context suggests that either Salvatore discussed other complaints with each of the complaining witnesses or they discussed them with each other), and “several” thought Crawford “meant well”, suggesting that they could still work with him. 

Quoting from the Salvatore report, “While Mr. Crawford denied outright several of the most troubling allegations (i.e., he denied the comment about hiring minorities; the comment about the African American employee; and the use of the term “the blacks”), I do not find Mr. Crawford’s denials in this regard credible, particularly where multiple individuals either heard the comments or heard about the comments at the time.”  But McKee comments

These conclusory comments, particularly re the “most troubling” allegations, are not well supported by Salvatore’s earlier imprecise descriptions of the actual interviews, and Crawford’s denials are pretty strong as to those particular allegations. 

Again, reading the McKee analysis in full is highly recommended. These excerpts miss many important points made in the full analysis.

According to Salvatore’s own description, she interviewed five (only) employees from remote locations via Zoom. She did not record the interviews, but took notes. She does not indicate that she transcribed the interview (which would be a verbatim account), but merely that she “took notes”. As most habitual note-takers will acknowledge, written notes can be taken in a sort of personal shorthand which necessarily are filtered through the note-taker’s own language usage, thus are subject to introduced overtones. This is particularly concerning since she was grouping conclusions from these different individual interviews.

Salvatore’s analysis and conclusions about the veracity of the complaints were startling. While Mr. Crawford denied outright some of the allegations and sought to give explanatory context to some of the others, she chose to dismiss his denials. None of the individuals who reported the comments had any discernible motive to lie about them.” This is a remarkable statement, considering that he was a top manager in the organization and many employees have general gripes and dissatisfaction with management in most organizations. As the longtime financial manager, Mr. Crawford could have made numerous decisions over the years that would cause dissatisfaction. Considering the weight and potential impact of the testimony, she should have sought some additional information.

Finance Department conflicts

Before taking on the role of Administrator, Tom Crawford spent many years as the City of Ann Arbor’s Finance Director (sometimes alluded to as the CFO, in imitation of corporate titles). McKee points out that the Stark report documents serious friction between Finance and Human Resources regarding a payroll system. Since we don’t know who the complainants are, we don’t know what managerial decisions may have affected them at some point. And we learned later that a number of high-ranked employees were considered to be underpaid. As we noted earlier, budgets and fiscal responsibility were a major focus of Mr. Crawford’s administration. The Administrator’s budget passed in May included eliminating some positions and placed limitations on the expanding Sustainability department. In 2020, with the pandemic that had just hit Ann Arbor and the rest of the state, Crawford proposed salary freezes, salary cuts, and held out the possibility of voluntary furloughs. Top officials did take temporary salary cuts, including the Administrator himself. These uncertainties and possible salary reductions would have been sure to cause resentment.

And then, in case her dismissal of any motivation on the part of the employees was not sufficient, Salvatore then makes the startling allegation that Crawford had “memory issues“. Really? Was there a diagnosis offered by a mental health professional? Were there examples that could document this condition?

One can only imagine the course of events if Mr. Crawford had thought to obtain legal counsel. But as it was, he accepted his fate and negotiated a settlement, after which he resigned gracefully with this letter: Crawford Resignation Letter. In the letter, he does not admit to any specific offense but acknowledges that “I have not always been at my absolute best, which I now understand created hurt, distrust and anxiety amongst some staff” and apologizes to those who were affected.

Bypassing Human Resources Director

One of the many irregularities in this process was that the standard accepted means of bringing complaints about behavior (in this case, mostly comments about race issues) within an organization is to take them to the Human Resources department. HR departments generally moderate and investigate such complaints and attempt to determine their veracity and to suggest a course of action, whether it is remedial training, compensation for damages, or termination in extreme cases. In this case, the “investigator” (Salvatore) appeared to play the role of HR, with a series of judgments as to which provision of the HR policies were or were not violated. She also suggested remedial action. More DEI training, a separate DEI administrator (this had already been decided by Council), and

the City should consider incorporating into Mr. Crawford’s annual performance evaluation process a robust 360 review soliciting feedback from Mr. Crawford’s direct reports on his management style and leadership around DEI issues in order to better understand if there are further and additional concerns in this area beyond the issues that have been the subject of this investigation.

(The suggestion of a 360 review seems a sensible solution. These are often conducted in organizations. Anonymous comments on a person’s job performance and behavior are solicited from other employees in every relation to the person being evaluated. So supervisors, peers, and subordinates are invited by a (typically) outside consultant to submit frank evaluations, which are then summarized in such a way as to avoid identification of the commenters. This presumably gives a well-rounded perspective.)

Ms. Salvatore does not suggest termination, and the general tone of the conclusions appears to indicate that this is a fixable problem.

The new HR Director, meanwhile was left completely out of the loop. The justification given by CM Briggs is that They (the complainants) did not bring these concerns to the HR Director because the HR Director reports to the City Administrator.  This is disrespectful to both men. It assumes that Mr. Crawford would take punitive action, and that Tom Guajardo is incapable of managing this situation as any HR professional would.

A Last-Minute Intervention

As stated here, the Salvatore report did not suggest termination, and instead offered means by which the future behavior and performance of the Administrator could be ameliorated. There was no particular basis for the Council to fire him, based on this report. The last tool available was to bring in the Human Resources Director, who up to now had not been involved.

The agenda for July 20 included an item (DC-7) that would make the Salvatore Report public, with redactions, as well as Tom Crawford’s July 13 memo apologizing and promising to amend his own actions. The item was introduced by CM Ali Ramlawi and Kathy Griswold, in an effort to bring public transparency to what had so far been a secret discussion. But at the last minute, an amendment to this resolution, sponsored by Mayor Taylor and CM Erica Briggs, Jen Eyer and Linh Song, was offered.  It contained these phrases:

RESOLVED, That the City Attorney work to establish the details of the conclusion of Mr. Crawford’s employment as the City Administrator by the first Council meeting in August;

RESOLVED, That the City Attorney advise the City Council on relevant details and any necessary agreements concerning the conclusion of Mr. Crawford’s employment as City Administrator before the first meeting in August

The Agenda Response Memo

On Council agendas, it has been customary to include an “Agenda Response Memo” at the beginning of the agenda. This is usually issued by the Administrator in response to Council questions. Generally the answers to specific questions are prepared by appropriate staff, depending on the department to which the inquiry is directed.

At times this period is also used to introduce new staff or to have a staff answer questions in person, if the intent is to allow Council to seek information about a particular program.

In the case of the Crawford termination, an agenda memo appeared on the Council agenda only hours before the actual meeting. It proved to be critical in justifying the termination of Mr. Crawford. The authors were indicated as “John Fournier and Tom Guajardo”.

Note that the title indicates that this is a staff introduction.

A series of emails sent between officials on that very day laid the basis for a Human Resources contribution, which as noted had not been solicited to date. A FOIA initiated by former CM Jack Eaton is excerpted here: Email Thread 7.20.21

The July 20 email thread makes it clear that Mr. Guajardo, who up to now had been excluded from all consideration of this case, was not particularly aware of developments.

  • At 8:29 a.m. Mayor Taylor sent a request to staff: “Please provide information regarding HR policies and practices in the City concerning protected class inappropriate comments or conduct.”
  • Sara Higgins, the staff person who was responsible for arranging the agenda, replied “I will note this as a staff introduction request for agenda item DC-7.”
  • Higgins then emailed the HR director, “I will add you as the contact for this staff introduction request for agenda item DC-7 and I will also send you the meeting request with the Zoom link for the Council meeting.”
  • Guajardo replied, “Sara – Can someone please clue me in as to what DC-7 is? This would probably be good information to have if I am having to speak to it.” 

It is still not quite 9:00 a.m. But at 9:19, John Fournier, the Assistant City Administrator, writes to Higgins, Guajardo, and the City Attorney, Stephen Postema, as well as Margaret Radabaugh, an Assistant City Attorney.

  • Team,
    Let’s let Stephen take the lead on this one. If he sees utility in including Mr. Guajardo, then we will accommodate. But we will defer to him.
    TG, let’s talk about it at 10 am. (TG refers to Guajardo.)

So you will note that having included the HR Director in this discussion, he is now being backed out. At 9:20, Margaret Radabaugh writes to the group:

  • Tom,
    Stephen is going to talk to the Mayor and recommend that the reply be in writing. I am copying Stephen on this email for further guidance (along with John for awareness). (4 lines are redacted here.)
    @Postema, Stephen will be in touch with you on this issue and I am also happy to help. Call anytime.

At 4:21 p.m., Postema writes,

  • Here is final version with edits. I think the request should be added. John is going to add statement that while the request was concerning a late add Resolution , the HR Director was able to provide a written reply.

(So instead of an in-person appearance by the HR Director, where he could have been asked questions, he is represented by a group-edited statement. And it is clear that this course has been steered by Assistant City Administrator John Fournier.)

At 5:09 p.m. (Council meets at 7:00 p.m.), Higgins sends this message: (emphasis added)

Mayor and Council,
Attached is a staff response to an additional July 20 Council Agenda question that was sent to us late. This memo will be included as a written communication from the City Administrator on the July 20th Council Agenda. While normally a late agenda question would be answered as a staff introduction, Mr. Guajardo was able to prepare the answer today in writing and so it is being forwarded in lieu of a verbal briefing.

Thus, rather than a response actually authored by the Human Resources Director under his own guidance, the Council is presented with an authoritative statement at least partially dictated by John Fournier and Stephen Postema. In addition, he is not given the opportunity to appear before Council to answer questions.

Evidently, this tips the balance or at least justifies actions by individual Councilmembers. It contains the following sentence:

My general practice concerning substantiated discriminatory comments would be to recommend to terminate employment immediately (though this could be effectuated by way of a resignation or separation agreement in addition to termination).

Note that this is not a specific recommendation in the Crawford case. It is presented as a hypothetical. Yet this was cited by some CM as the reason they voted to terminate. CM Lisa Disch, for example, wrote: “I cast my vote based on that advice“.

One can only imagine the course of events if Mr. Crawford had thought to obtain legal counsel. But as it was, he accepted his fate and negotiated a settlement, after which he resigned gracefully with this letter: Crawford Resignation Letter. In the letter, he does not admit to any specific offense but acknowledges that “I have not always been at my absolute best, which I now understand created hurt, distrust and anxiety amongst some staff” and apologizes to those who were affected.

The Why of It

There are clearly many questions and items of dispute remaining about Tom Crawford’s dismissal (formally, he resigned instead of being fired, but no one was confused). It will remain a serious disagreement between two factions of Council who must somehow manage to work together. But it is clear that he got what is colloquially known as the “bum’s rush” – ejection without ceremony.  But why? What was the urgency? The alleged reasons are obviously inadequate. He was careless in his language. But he did not demean any individuals, and the hired consultant stated that she did not believe he actually caused any employee trouble with their job.

…the allegations at issue in this investigation did not involve any claim that Mr. Crawford has taken any adverse employment actions based on race, gender or any other protected category. Accordingly, based on the issues that I reviewed, I do not believe that a preponderance of the evidence supports that the City’s Non Discrimination Policy has been violated.

The lack of propriety and fairness in the process used clearly had a strong motivation. What we have just witnessed was a “palace coup”, which is the takeover of a legitimate government by insiders. What did the instigators hope to achieve? There are several possible explanations, some proposed by other people and some we have already put forth.

Mayor Christopher Taylor on Facebook, August 29, 2021

Overriding a FOIA. It has been bandied about that resentment about Crawford’s releasing material that had been denied in the FOIA process. Crawford reversed an earlier decision and released a police report on a matter that embarrassed Jen Eyer, one of the most powerful Councilmembers, who is thought to have far-reaching political aspirations. But Christopher Taylor, in a recent Facebook “town hall” denied that categorically. He stated,

There is one reason why the administrator resigned that is because the administrator’s workplace statements in the areas of minority hiring, race, and LGBT experience that were unacceptable to the workplace – when a leader makes statements of those kinds, the leader’s not in a position to provide leadership to an organization such as ours. That’s just the way it is. That is the beginning and ending of the conversation.

I consider the FOIA incident unlikely as a motivation as well.

Factional hatred and payback for earlier events. There is discussion of this motivation in “Crawford Out” (the Ann Arbor Observer September issue). There were particularly hard feelings about the firing of Howard Lazarus (he also formally accepted a settlement rather than being fired). Lazarus did not get along with the majority in Council following the 2018 election and he was strongly supported by the Taylor faction. The reporter alluded to this in his conclusion. There is no question that the Council was and is divided along factional lines with regard to opinion about the Lazarus issue. Whether Crawford’s termination was directly seen as payback is questionable. However, some of Taylor’s supporters seem fairly certain.

A tweet from one of the frequent #a2council commenters

Power and Money, or Power over Money. There is considerable reason to suppose that this is the motivation behind Crawford’s ouster.

Over Crawford’s long experience with the City as its Finance Director, he always recommended or imposed a strong budget discipline. It was he who introduced many safeguards and understandings of the logic behind the Budget.

The Budget for any government is a legal document that lays out how money may be spent. Typically money is segregated into designated fund compartments, and transfers between them is frowned on. These fund compartments may have either legally constrained revenue sources (for example, grant funding for a particular purpose must not be used for a different purpose), or they simply reflect the will of the Administrator and the Council working together on priorities. Budget battles are often fought over establishing those priorities and the dollar amounts that come with them. Crawford often made a point of Ann Arbor’s structural deficit – the point that our tax base does not match our expenditures. In the recent budget cycle, (see Rescuing Ann Arbor’s Budget) he spoke gloomily of the possible need to dip into reserves or delay contributions to pension funds, for example.

He also stressed the difference between one-time revenue (like the American Rescue Plan [ARP] funds) and recurring revenue. The point was that you could not budget by using one-time money to pay for recurring expenses.

A “kitchen table” analogy would be that if the rent is due, you might manage to pay it this month by selling a few possessions. But when the rent comes due next month, what will you use then? You need to have a regular source of income if you will be able to pay your rent every month.

The total City budget for FY 2022 is about $470.5 million. But that includes many funds that are not accessible for any but their intended purpose (restricted funds). The General Fund, which can be used for discretionary purpose, is only  about $118.2 million. These are the dollars that Council can spend for priorities, including most salaries and favored projects. The ARP is promised to be about $24.2 million. That is about 20% as much as the entire General Fund for the year. But it is clear that Crawford would not have favored using this windfall just to top up this year’s spending. In informal conversation, he mentioned that there should be plans to address some major issue with it, possibly in collaboration with Washtenaw County.

To return to the kitchen table, an unplanned extra sum of money might be used for investment. A new roof, perhaps, and some addition to the savings account. Not too many extra vacations or other treats.

Enter John Fournier

The Assistant City Administrator, John Fournier, was hired by Howard Lazarus to assist with day-to-day responsibilities. This position had never existed in Ann Arbor City government previously. When Lazarus was terminated, Tom Crawford became the Acting Administrator. When Crawford was appointed City Administrator, John Fournier was still in the Assistant position at a salary of $153,000. He has now been made Acting Administrator as of August 16 and is receiving a salary of $223,600. He has not applied for the open position of City Administrator, and the Council has decided to hire an outside candidate as Interim City Administrator, likely to serve until 2023.

Fournier has shown himself willing to step forward and take action. As we have recounted above, he took charge of the agenda item which led to the termination of Tom Crawford. He stepped in to guide the production of the “agenda memo” which was used as justification for the termination. When Elizabeth Nelson suggested that he had written it (because he did sign it), he sent her a stern letter (Fournier letter) reprimanding her and demanding an apology. In the letter, he denies any role in writing the memo itself, but it is obvious from the emails that he was instrumental in seeing that the final document was a group-edited memo rather than a personal appearance by the HR director.

Even before the formal termination date for Crawford, Fournier announced a number of pay raises for top-ranked staff. One of those is the new HR Director, John Guajardo, who was so recently involved in the “termination memo”. As he states in his August 29 memo to Council (Fournier pay memo),

The day after I was appointed to serve as the acting city administrator (n.b., August 18), I asked the human resources director, Mr. Tom Guajardo, to prepare a pay equity analysis of non-union staff. Over the last several weeks I have met with the human resources director, members of the human resources staff, the city’s senior staff leadership, and city attorneys to formulate a response to our pay equity issues.

I think we could regard that as moving with alacrity. Note that some of these salary raises could be as much as $10,000 per year. Only 10 days after being appointed to a temporary position, a rather far-reaching expenditure is proposed. Fournier references a pay equity study done in 2017, though it is not clear how much that has influenced the current decisions.

Tom Crawford, as we have said, is a budget maven and was likely slow to increase salaries for non-union personnel, especially in this last year. Any governmental money manager knows that FTE (full-time equivalents, or employees) are one of the most expensive items in a budget. There are fringe benefits and pension contributions that add to the base salary cost. Over time, an increase in base salary can add volumes to the final expense of an employee. There is a multiplier effect.

Could it be that Crawford, by restraining growth in compensation for already well-paid administrative staff, garnered ill will? This is not an inconsequential question for someone who was just terminated based on anonymous staff complaints. In any event, it is clear that Fournier is not feeling inhibited to spend money.

It is also evident that he is in the catbird seat, at least in the near future. A choice has not yet been made between the candidates for Interim Administrator, and there must surely be at least a month or two before one will be installed. Even then, Fournier will have considerable influence, as “the man on the scene”.

Mayor Taylor, Missy Stults, and A2Zero

Mayor Christopher Taylor has been very, very clear. He is thoroughly committed to the issue of Ann Arbor’s carbon reduction (we’ve promised to be carbon neutral by 2030).  As we have quoted him a number of times, he has basically promised disruption, transformation, a complete change of the way we do business. (See here again.) There are various estimates of how much A2Zero will cost, (here is last year’s: A2Zero Investment Plan ), but it has been said to be roughly $1 billion over 10 years. The City General Fund is only slightly more than $100 million per year ($118 M). This would consume nearly the entire City discretionary budget.

Missy Stults, who was brought on by Howard Lazarus to direct the new department of Sustainability and Innovation, is clearly a very ambitious and pro-active leader who also generally seems to command respect and appreciation. Here is what John Fournier said in his recent memo:

…with three years of hindsight it is clear that Dr. Stults has created an ambitious, transformative, and effective city unit of more than a dozen staff members who are working with partners across the organization and community to create a more sustainable future. I have come to regard her work as essential to the city’s operations, and her unit of government has become a true enterprise function within our organization.

There are only two problems with the broad-ranging A2Zero program (other than its cost). In my estimation, it won’t achieve its goals, and there are no metrics in place to indicate progress toward them. (See our discussion of this.)

And also, many of its elements are either currently illegal under Michigan law, or impractical for other reasons. But then there is also the fact that it would consume almost our entire governmental structure. What services that we have come to expect as a matter of course will be challenged? This is unknown, but not impossible to foresee. Further, our Mayor has repeatedly promised surprises. In the preliminary document provided prior to last year’s Council vote, Stults indicated that some other City departments and programs could be attached and used. For example, Solid Waste and the Stormwater fund. Certainly, if we are spending over half the City Budget on this program, it will be spreading its wings over many functions.

Power unleashed

It seems clear that there is a strong coalition within City Hall that is seeking to gain control of the money, and the control, of many aspects of our City government. Note that the ARP plan, which was supposed to be presented by October 1, is not spoken of. In contrast, the Board of Commissioners has had County-wide discussion and come up with a draft plan. It is admittedly controversial, but appears to be a solid and considered attempt to address priorities. What will happen to our allocation? I would be pleased to hear that Council is considering alternatives. But frankly, I think that A2Zero is able to absorb the entire amount. Mayor Taylor has already put forth the idea of a new millage to further support it, but it has evidently been postponed till next year.

Dismay

The City of Ann Arbor is in the midst of a very troubling time. It goes far beyond the usual squabbling over unwelcome developments or ordinances. This is an uncertain time for the world, the nation, the states, the people. We have been relatively fortunate in Ann Arbor because of our inherent wealth (in terms of resources) and our well-educated population. We also seem to be fortunate in terms of the weather, compared to many other places. But our governmental structure seems to be dissolving.

One truly dismaying factor is the divisiveness and outright nastiness. Of course, we have had that Greek chorus of #a2council jackals on Twitter for some time. (There is a lot they don’t like about many of us who live here.) But the complete collapse of civility and discourse in our City Council is truly a source of dismay. See Disruption, Dysfunction and Dismay (2). There appears to have been established a culture of character destruction against elected Council members and others who simply have different notions of what the City should supply to its residents, or what its character should be.

Evidently this is a general trend within our culture. A recent essay in the Atlantic Monthly by Anne Applebaum, The New Puritans, describes it with chill-making accuracy. Typically, someone simply uses a term or a turn of phrase that is deemed offensive. Then there is an outcry, a shunning, a dismissal, all without any mediation or search for true meaning. People have lost their jobs, their friends, their reputations, basically through mob action.

This method has now been “weaponized” right here in our little enlightened city. First, there was the destruction of Jeff Hayner (though he still sits on Council). I’m not going to try to argue Jeff’s case here, but at any distance it would have been seen as incredible to have numerous Council actions against him for the injudicious use of two words in quotations, not aimed at any individual.

Having succeeded so well with that, it was evidently determined to use the same tool against our City Administrator. The timing of the complaints was very convenient, and odd. Most of the attributed comments had evidently been made some time ago, perhaps months. Suddenly, as we have already described, five employees chose to meet with the Mayor and complain about a variety of verbal offenses. The meeting occurred just after the City was announced to be receiving a big pot of money. If these two events are not connected, the universe is very strange indeed. And now we are seeing a rapid move to change the allocation of money, since the budget guard is gone.

How can this be happening in Ann Arbor, Michigan? It is hard to comprehend.

 

 

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12 Comments on “Disruption, Dysfunction, and Dismay: Ann Arbor’s Governmental Power Struggle (3)”

  1. Anita Baker-blocker Says:

    Thank you, Ms. Armentrout, for clarifying the City Council position on recent personnel changes! I was dismayed when a City Manager was fired after serving than less a full year in the position. The November vote is to allow the city to grant acceptance of higher bids on a discretionary basis, something I think the recently fired City Manager would have opposed. As with the proposed parking structure appended to a new rail station (recently ended by the FRA), I’m amazed at the financial priorities of the City of Ann Arbor!

  2. poodlechild Says:

    Excellent as usual, Vivienne!! Thank you.

  3. Kathy Griswold Says:

    I concur with the facts presented but will not comment further due to the ongoing investigation.

  4. Stephen Lange Ranzini Says:

    Your otherwise excellent article reprints a Tweet by Julie Weatherbee that contains a statement that the city’s former Administrator, Howard Lazarus, was terminated “for no reason”, which was a clear lie.

    After our lengthy discussion of the issue in our Ann Arbor Politics Facebook Group, I posted this comment as a summary of that Group discussion and our conclusions over a year ago, listing seven possible reasons why City Council may have opted to fire Howard. We will never know the actual reasons because the City Council is bound by a non-disparagement agreement related to this termination. This Post also contains Mayor Christopher Taylor’s original statement about the termination, where he made the assertion that the termination “is entirely without cause”:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/178850790201740/permalink/190790019007817/. Please note not everyone agreed with this summary. It is merely a reflection of what I as Moderator perceived to be the consensus of the Group’s Members who discussed this issue at that time.


    • I should note that I posted a link to this blog post on a Facebook group, Ann Arbor Politics. It is completely within the purview of the hosts of that group to disallow the post, which was intended to be informational.

  5. John Smith Says:

    I think the significance of the public rebuke of Crawford by Taylor & Grand over the FOIA served to send the message that it was open season on Tom. The five Judases knew they would get protection from Taylor & Council.

    Below is a copy of the letter I sent to CM Disch as a current resident of Ward 1:

    Council Member Lisa Disch (other members of Council as well),

    I have read your final communication in regard to the involuntary separation of Ann Arbor’s City Manager, Tom Crawford as well as the independent report written by Ms. Salavtore. I find your conclusions and method of analysis troubling and simply beneath the standards that I would expect for a seasoned Political Science Professor at a distinguished university. The case for any insensitive or derogatory comments directed at any protected groups was ultimately subjective, speculative and disputed by Mr. Crawford. More troubling, the criteria used as the basis for the dismissal appears worthy of a Franz Kafka inspired novel.

    Ms. Salvatore’s report did not appear to recommend dismissal and instead spoke of, “…incorporating into Mr. Crawford’s annual performance evaluation process a robust 360 review soliciting feedback from Mr. Crawford’s direct reports…” The standard used to support Mr. Crawford’s separation was Standards of Conduct Policy 5.28, “Engaging in any behavior or action, on or off duty, that is detrimental to the reputation or image of the city or the operations of the workplace.” How is ‘detrimental to the reputation or image’ defined? How does one accused defend against it? How does applying this standard solve a problem and are better alternatives available? None of these questions are answered. As a Political Science Professor, do these facts not signal Red Flags in your mind? The city has implemented a policy with two options, 1) “One Strike, You’re Out!” or, 2) Do nothing. Again, no Red Flags here?

    Most troubling of all—how does the current process used prevent a tyrant from abusing the power for uses other than those intended? I fear that Policy 5.28 is being used as a political weapon to dispatch people that they Mayor finds objectionable. The former HR Director Wilkerson was able to operate undetected for 10 years concurrent with Mayor Taylor’s tenure on Council. This suggests that the use of ‘investigations’ is arbitrary and ineffective at preventing abuse at best, and deliberate and purposeful as a partisan political weapon at worse.

    Who can survive scrutiny over any length of time under the provision of Policy 5.28? The standard is so arbitrary and subjective as to invite abuse. For example, applying this standard to CM Eyer’s alleged enabling of a sexual predator at her political consulting firm merits attention. Another example would be a YouTube video of the Mayor being highly dismissive and disrespectful of a large contingent of people from the African American Community who were in Council Chambers in 2014 addressing the Council concerning the Aura Rosser death.

    There is also the particular issue of the Mayor publicly rebuking Tom Crawford for the release of a FOIA as per State Law and usual practice concerning a Domestic Violence Police call to CM Eyer’s home. This action by the Mayor suggests he feels he is above the law and not accountable to the usual process normal people are subject to. How does the city avoid the appearance that Mr. Crawford is being fired in retaliation for doing his job and following the law and normal practice? What kind of message does this send to city staff? The damage here is great.

  6. Janet Lebson Says:

    Dear Vivienne, thank you so much for all your work to give us so much valuable information and context. It is A LOT to keep track of all these inter-related issues and then a whole additional effort to compose something this comprehensive. I’m appreciating you. Thank you!

  7. PeteM Says:

    I’m curious about some of the language in the conclusion to your post: “it was evidently determined to use the same tool against our City Administrator. The timing of the complaints was very convenient, and odd.” Are you saying that the employees who spoke to Ms. Salvatore consciously lied about all or some of the allegations, and did so in concert with themselves and/or others? If so, that’s a very serious supposition and one that doesn’t seem plausible to me.


    • Anything I will say will be only speculation. But my personal intuition is that the employees were genuine but the timing wasn’t. The events complained about were over a period of time and suddenly all five people are talking to the Mayor, just after the ARP money is announced. Who gathered them together? Also, I am referring to the use of language to get rid of inconvenient people. Please read the Atlantic article I cited.

  8. Patricia L Alvis Says:

    I am grateful to Vivienne for all the hard digging she does to keep us informed. Not only in Ann Arbor, but it seems everywhere we look, the feature of “things said” has grown into a mass movement. Thank you for calling my attention to the Atlantic article.

  9. Marge Cramton Says:

    Thank you for making this situation make more sense.


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