The City Administrator's Separation
Council members are restricted in what we can say about the City Administrator’s departure by the terms of his separation agreement. I will try to be as informative as I can within those limits. That agreement prohibits the parties from disparaging each other and the former City Administrator’s lawyer has been aggressive in interpreting “disparaging”.
The former Administrator’s contract had no expiration date and provided a generous severance payment unless he quit or was fired “with cause.” The contract defined “with-cause discharge” as meaning serious misconduct such as fraud, felony, or sexual misconduct. No one alleges that any such serious misconduct happened. Without cause does not mean without reason. It means there was no egregious misbehavior.
The former City Administrator had applied for positions in other cities, both before and after the 2018 Council election. In 2017, he applied for a position with Austin Texas. https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2017/12/ann_arbor_city_administrator_n.html In 2019, he applied for a job in Gainesville, Florida. https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2019/09/ann-arbor-city-administrator-a-finalist-for-florida-city-manager-job-jackson-manager-is-not.html
It became apparent that he would leave his position as Ann Arbor City Administrator. In an interview with WEMU interview on February 20, 2020 he offered insight into the separation:
"Council has the absolute right under the charter by vote of the majority of council to replace the City Administrator. Council has the right to have leadership that they feel comfortable and confident in. When they feel that they have to make that change it doesn’t have to be for anything that caused it other than they would feel that they need to make a change. That’s what the discussion was and I respect their right to do that."
"Council has the right to make a change in leadership. People who are in City and County management know that that’s part of the business. The average tenure for a city manager is three to five years and I’m about at four… it’s kind of the nature of the business."
There were a variety of issues where Council and the Administrator did not see eye to eye. For example, on a topic of current interest, there were differences of opinion on the subject of police oversight. An article in mLive noted: “City Administrator Howard Lazarus last month recommended a commission with less power and independence than what the task force recommends, sparking some debate.” https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2018/10/ann_arbor_council_to_consider.html
Similarly, there were concerns about how the former Administrator had handled problems in the Human Resources department and how nearly a year had passed since the HR Director had resigned without appointment of a new director.
I offer those examples to illustrate the differences between Council and the former Administrator, not as criticism of him. As he noted, it is not uncommon for a Council and Administrator to go their separate ways. It was obvious that he intended to leave the City and the separation agreement allowed the City to have some control over the timing of that departure. By reaching a negotiated separation agreement, the City and its former Administrator determined when he would depart and provided for an orderly transition.
The separation agreement provided a period of transition to allow an orderly process. Importantly, it also included a waiver clause where the former administrator promised not to sue the City for anything related to his employment or departure. Even a frivolous law suit can be costly to defend against, so this was important.
The City Council voted unanimously to appoint the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Tom Crawford, as interim City Administrator because he is uniquely qualified to perform that job. Mr. Crawford has been the CFO for 16 years. He has served as interim City Administrator on two prior occasions of about 9 month each. He helped guide the City through the last recession and will be a great leader during this recession. As CFO, Mr. Crawford is aware of every dollar in the budget and thereby is aware of the details of our operations. The City is in good hands as we face the many challenges of the pandemic and recession.