The Ann Arbor Chronicle » interview questions it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 City Admin Finalist: Steve Powers Wed, 13 Jul 2011 10:34:45 +0000 Dave Askins On Tuesday morning, Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones received an update suggesting that his patrol officers are enforcing the law uniformly across all vehicles. A taxicab carrying the two finalists for the Ann Arbor city administrator’s position – Ellie Oppenheim and Steve Powers – had executed a rolling stop, and was pulled over. Powers reported that the officer was professional and matter-of-fact.

The cab was driving the two finalists to city hall, where they were interviewed by city councilmembers and senior staff – including Jones – in a round-robin format, cycling through three small groups to answer questions about their experience, abilities and approach to the job. A third finalist, Harry Black, had withdrawn his name from consideration last weekend.

Steve Powers Ann Arbor city administrator finalist

Steve Powers, one of two finalists for the Ann Arbor city administrator job, during an interview with city councilmembers on July 12.

In addition to Jones, conducting the interviews were councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje, and city attorney Stephen Postema.

Each had been given briefing books prepared by the city’s human resources staff and consultants with Affion Public, a search firm hired by the city. The three panels consisted of (1) Briere, Rapundalo and Postema; (2) Hieftje, Higgins and Kunselman; and (3) Anglin, Derezinski and Jones.

Questions were essentially read aloud as scripts from these prepared materials to ensure uniformity of the interviewing experience. One or two questions were fairly general, for example: What do you think makes a good leader? But the majority were behavioral: Tell us about a time when your leadership skills were put to the test and what the outcome was.

The interviews were part of a two-day process, and included a lunch on Tuesday with staff and a public reception on Tuesday evening at the new municipal center, which featured five-minute presentations from each candidate, as well as time for informal conversations. On Wednesday, the finalists will be interviewed in city council chambers from 8 a.m. to noon. That session, which is open to the public, will also be videotaped and broadcast live on Channel 16 to allow viewing of the interviews by councilmembers and the public who are not able to attend.

It’s possible that a resolution making the appointment could be on the council’s July 18 agenda.

The Chronicle sat in on all interviews held Tuesday morning. This article reports on the responses by Powers. A separate article describes how Oppenheim responded to the interview questions. Because candidates often offered similar examples as answers to different sets of questions, their responses are summarized thematically.

Participatory Management Style? (Question from Candidate)

Towards the end of each of the three interview sessions, time was allotted for candidates to ask questions of the panel. Powers asked all three panels a question about the management style the city of Ann Arbor is seeking. He told them if a county administrator like him was on their short list – he’s been the county administrator of Marquette County, Mich., since 1996 – then that suggested to him councilmembers were looking for someone who had a more participatory, facilitative management style as opposed to a more a strong, CEO-type style.

Participatory Management Style: Background

By way of background, the connection of a county administrator to that management style is related to the nature of county governments as set forth in Michigan state statutes.

As Powers brought out during his interviews, county administrators in Michigan lead organizations that have several department heads who are elected officials, and who are accountable first to voters, not to the county administrator. In Marquette County, those include: the prosecuting attorney; sheriff; clerk; treasurer; register of deeds; drain commissioner, mine inspector; and district court judges. “They don’t have to do what I say,” explained Powers. “They have to be respectful at budget time, but they can do what they want.” In Michigan, county administrators are not strong CEO-types – simply by dint of the statutory structure – even if someone had that type of personality, said Powers.

For that reason, he said, a county administrator has to use a style of persuasion and logic as opposed to “do it because I say so.” Powers described how he had worked to build and maintain trust of the county department heads who are elected officials and the county board. He’d achieved that through respecting boundaries and recognizing the statutory authority of the elected officials. Building and maintaining that trust was something that Powers offered, when asked by the panel to name his “greatest career achievement to date.”

Also related to participatory management style, Powers described how over the last seven to eight years of his 15-year tenure, he has brought his management team into the budget process. “My budget is their recommended budget as well,” he said. The management team is also given “decision shares” on how to move forward.

Participatory Management Style: Council Response

What did councilmembers have to say in response to the question from Powers? Were they looking for a participatory and facilitative management style? Was that the current management culture at the city?

Mayor John Hieftje responded by saying that the process by which the city’s budget is developed has changed, which is indicative of overall changes in the culture, he said. The city administrator previously would just drop the budget in the council’s lap, he said. Now it’s a much longer interaction with the council. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) added that this year the council is already starting to talk about the next budget.

Responding to remarks by Hieftje and Higgins about the budget, Powers said he’d started paying attention to Ann Arbor in 2009, and using some of the strategies that then-city administrator Roger Fraser had implemented.

On a different panel from Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) responded to the question from Powers about the management style that the council is looking for, by saying, “Oh, that’s not easy! There are 11 of us. Each of us will have our own vision.” She told Powers that the council did not collaborate on their vision for a management style, even though they’d put together a job description for city administrator to be posted. There are also 114,000 residents to be considered, she said, or at least 85,000 – even if students aren’t included in the statistic.

Briere told Powers she’s looking for excellent communication skills from top to bottom, with the staff and with the public. The person the council chooses needs to be able to provide background so that the council can make a reasoned decision. The council has tried to talk about setting priorities for the budget, but she allowed: “We’re not there, yet.” However, she cautioned that this doesn’t mean councilmembers want a weak administrator. They’re looking for someone who is strong.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) agreed with Briere. The council is looking for someone with a strong chief executive background, but who can use other qualities as the circumstance requires – someone who has “people skills.” Every day the job will require something a little different, Rapundalo ventured. For someone to come in and say, “This is how we’re going to do it,” Rapundalo told Powers that would not work – “Not in this town!”

Powers followed up Rapundalo’s statement by saying that based on his background study, he had the impression that Ann Arbor city residents value process and transparency. Briere and Rapundalo agreed that was true. Briere joked that if Powers could be made of glass, with every thought, motive and concept completely visible, there are people who would still question whether everything he had done was transparent. Rapundalo also said there are times when you can only take transparency so far, due to other constraints. But he said Briere was right. Briere added it would be good to have the skill to change that dynamic, to create that trust – within the organization and in the community. That would be extraordinarily desirable, she said. Powers replied that it would be a great goal to strive for.

On the third panel, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said that Ann Arbor is at a critical threshhold time, though it’s in good shape compared to other cities. Ann Arbor is in a process of change, so it needs “someone who can enhance change and get it going.” Derezinski advised that the new city administrator needs to be able to take some risks: “Not all your decisions will be popular.” The city has had good leadership, he said, but times change and the new administrator needs to help the city manage change.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) responded by saying that he liked what Powers had to say about driving down decision-making to lower levels of the organization. It’s middle management that really runs any good organization, Anglin said. You have to respect staff enough to let them do their jobs. Anglin said he commended Powers, because that’s the approach Powers had expressed to the panel.

Motivation for Ann Arbor Job

A range of questions led to discussion of Powers’ motivation for wanting the specific job of Ann Arbor city administrator.

Motivation for Ann Arbor Job: Timing

Responding to a questions about why he’s interested in this particular position, Powers said he’d promised his youngest daughter that he wouldn’t disrupt her middle school and high school years with a move. She graduated from high school this year, so he’d met that promise. It’s a good time for him to be looking. He pointed to the long tenure of former Ann Arbor city administrator Roger Fraser and said he felt Ann Arbor would be a great place to live for him and his family.

Motivation for Ann Arbor Job: Leaving

The decision to look for other opportunities besides his current position in Marquette was the one Powers named as the most difficult decision he’d made in the last six months – he’d be leaving a good situation.

He said he was very fortunate – on the nine-person county board of commissioners, four were on the board that hired him. The former chair, he would consider a good friend. He has a lot of respect for the people he works with. It would be difficult to leave what he helped to build, especially the professional and personal relationships he had there. And Marquette County is actually looking at a promising economic and budget future – there’s a valuable deposit of nickel there, and Rio Tinto [a mining company] is a few months away from drilling it. That alone could increase the tax base by 50%, he said.

Motivation for Ann Arbor Job: Professional Growth

Powers called the Ann Arbor job an opportunity to grow. He said when he was 20 years old he decided he wanted to be a city manger and he’d attended the best school for that to earn his masters of public administration – University of Kansas. He’s been working in local government for 25 years, so he’s looking at the next challenge – he’s still striving. He told the panel he is 48 years old, so he doesn’t have too many more spots left. He’d always figured he would bounce around staying 4-5 years in a spot, climbing the ladder, but it hadn’t turned out that way, he said.

Motivation for Ann Arbor Job: Ann Arbor Is Ann Arbor

Powers told the panel he knows Michigan, knows the head of the Michigan Municipal League, and knows his way to Lansing. Given that he’d gone to school to be a city manager, “Flopping over to the city side [from the county] has always been of interest to me,” he said. It would be a way to continue to strive and challenge himself and to “recharge my professional batteries.”

He told the panel that Ann Arbor is attractive to him “because it’s Ann Arbor.” Ann Arbor is one of five areas that have done relatively well economically, he said, the others being Marquette, Traverse City, Midland, and Grand Rapids. So while Ann Arbor has challenges, it has opportunities and advantages, too. He pointed to the University of Michigan as a key. He pointed to running out of downtown office space, a problem Ann Arbor reportedly faces, as a great problem to have. To be able to take Ann Arbor forward would be a great professional opportunity, he said.

Motivation for Ann Arbor Job: Ann Arbor Is Not Minnesota

The geography of Powers’ career history also came up in the context of the position he held in Minnesota as coordinator for Martin County, Minn., from 1994-1996. He learned humility at that job, he said. His first task was find his own office – there was no physical office space. He realized he had to do all those things himself. He said when he accepted the job in Minnesota, he was losing his job in Oregon due to reduced funding, which was ultimately related to federal prohibitions on logging in the spotted owl habitat. [From 1987-1994, Powers served as the assistant county administrator and assistant to the county administrator for Jackson County, Oregon. His responsibilities there included managing human resources, labor relations, risk management, and organizational development and training.]

His boss was working with him to give him time to find other work, Powers said. The Minnesota position turned out to be a smaller job and the community was smaller than he’d realized. That’s why he was there only two years. He’d learned to balance urgency and doing his homework, he said. He related the description of his tenure in Minnesota partly due to a remark from Ann Arbor police chief Barnett Jones, who ventured: “Everyone has done something that doesn’t turn out to be right.”

Previous Experience: Parallels to Ann Arbor

In response to a question about how his previous positions related to the Ann Arbor city administrator job, Powers said all of his career stops helped, but the most pertinent was his current one as Marquette County administrator. Despite the smaller size of the community there, he cited the similar community characteristics: (1) a university plays a large role [Northern Michigan University for Marquette, and University of Michigan for Ann Arbor]; and (2) the region lost a major employer [K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette, and Pfizer in Ann Arbor].

Previous Experience: K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base – Morale

Kenneth Ingalls Sawyer was a former Marquette County road commissioner who originally proposed an airport for the area, about 20 miles south of the city of Marquette. K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base was used as part of the strategic nuclear deterrent and in fighter-interceptor defense during the cold war era. It was closed in 1995. It previously employed around 10,000 Air Force personnel.

In the course of his responses to several of the questions posed by the interview panels, Powers cited issues related to Marquette County’s involvement with the economic redevelopment of K.I. Sawyer. He described how the county board of commissioners had decided – about a month before he was hired – that the county would play a role in the redevelopment of the base.

It was a controversial decision, he said, with some board members adamantly opposed to the idea that this was part of the appropriate function of a county government. But the board was under extreme pressure to do something. As a result of that decision, there were concerns about financial obligations that would be stretched.

He gave that situation as an example when asked to describe a time when morale was poor and what he did to handle it. He also cited the base redevelopment to illustrate how he kept his direct reports motivated. Morale was low for many county staff due to the extra financial burden and the fact that some felt that air base redevelopment was not part of a traditional county government structure. If morale was not low, Powers said, then staff were not enthusiastic.

What he did, he said, was to say to his staff: This was a decision of the county board and here’s the reasons the board thinks this will help the community if we implement this successfully. He told the staff that he knew the county could implement it successfully, because there was a good team in place. The state was involved for a short period of time, and there were some state staff involved for a while, but ultimately it was county staff who had to step up – the county’s attorney, planner, finance staff and the administrator’s office.

So the first thing to establish was that the policy decision was already made, and it had been made by elected policymakers. Whining and complaining wouldn’t change that. He told his staff that he had confidence in them that they could implement the decision and he would support them, with additional resources or a change in resources. But he told them he expected they’d have to work hard to accomplish it.

It caused some staff to grumble, Powers allowed. But he appealed to a higher calling: Don’t you want to be a part of the biggest challenge this community might ever face and do what you went to school to do? Overall that worked well, he said. But he allowed that a couple of people left.

As the project went along, he said he shared the success with the staff and they saw it was an opportunity for them to grow, a chance to do something different and challenging and to be recognized for the accomplishment. It became an award-winning project and helped the county budget.

Part of the base conversion was to move the county airport out to the location of the base, eliminating county general fund support for the airport. Powers said ultimately he felt like good decisions and recommendations to the county board were made on the reuse of the base – on utilities and housing and the role of the county in redevelopment of the base. More people are working there now than when it was announced for closure, he said. There’s better air service. He concluded: It’s been a successful project. He summarized the approach toward maintaining morale by saying: Tell ‘em why, tell ‘em this is the reality, and keep pushing towards the goals.

Previous Experience: K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base – Unexpected Challenge

Powers also cited the K.I. Sawyer base conversion when asked to give an example of something that was unexpected as far as the scope of challenges. He said his initial thought was: I’ll show these Yoopers how to do an Air Force base conversion! He quipped that he had his International City/County Management Association (ICMA) air base reuse handbook, and brought it to his office and plopped it down. He realized it was bigger and much more complex than he was expecting. He said he learned a better appreciation for knowing what he didn’t know and when to ask those who do know. He learned not to be afraid to look at how other people are doing something, he said.

Previous Experience: K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base – Personal Challenge

Powers also gave the K.I. Sawyer base conversion as the answer to a question about his biggest challenge in his current position. “It was a huge presence,” he said, with its 10,000 active military personnel. And part of the challenge was in handling the dissent from those who did not think the county’s role in the base’s redevelopment was appropriate. The challenge was to get everyone – including elected department officials – to work together on that, he said. It was a multi-year project that consumed most of his time, he said. The county’s probate judge, who is one of the stronger personalities in the community, at one point made the comment that the county was on auto-pilot, because all the focus was on Sawyer, Powers said.

That was a judge who was not supportive of the county’s involvement with Sawyer – he felt the county should have stuck to its knitting. The judge was tired of seeing nothing on the county board’s agenda except the airport. The judge went to the board chair and said Powers should be fired. Obviously, Powers said, he and that judge didn’t see eye-to-eye.

But Powers said that he would talk to that judge and respect his statutory authority. The judge was very data driven and Powers said he tried to relate to him on that level, and on the judge’s interest in the juvenile justice system. Now, 10-15 years later, Powers said he talks to that judge about the budget. Last Friday, the two had met and he shared with Powers what he was planning to say at the budget meeting that Powers was missing to interview for the Ann Arbor job. And Powers shared with him what he would have said if he could have attended.

Previous Experience: Northern Michigan University

Powers was asked about the university’s role in the community. Powers said the president of Northern Michigan University is one of his references – he’s in the Rotary Club with the president. They weren’t linked elbow to elbow, he said, but the two work together on the economic development organization – Lake Superior Community Partnership.

The president of NMU initiated meetings of the mayor, city manager, county board chair, Powers and some of the president’s leadership team to talk about town and gown issues. Powers said he works more closely with some of the university’s leadership team than with the president. The university is active in helping the county with the K.I. Sawyer base conversion.

NMU is looking at moving its aircraft maintenance program out to K.I. Sawyer. There’s a small aircraft maintenance company, a part of American Eagle, that hires every graduate of the NMU aircraft maintenance program. It’s small, but a nice program for getting students placed. One of the retired provosts is active in efforts to promote “green aviation.” There’s been cooperation with the airports in Houghton and in Escanaba on a privately-led effort to develop green aviation industries, and the retired provost is a part of that.

Long before he arrived, Powers said, NMU was established as a successful public safety academy. The sheriff, police and prosecutor are instructors at the public safety academy, Powers said. Powers is an adjunct professor in public administration, and uses interns from the political science, public administration department.

Lack of Communication: Rehiring Retired Employees

Asked to provide an example of a situation when he felt he did not communicate well, Powers described a decision to rehire employees who had previously retired. He gave the same example when invited to describe a time when he had to make a decision, but didn’t have the benefit of plans and policies or complete information.

His recommendation to the county board (which it followed) was to enact a policy of allowing the rehiring of retired employees – back in 2004, when the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) dropped its earnings limitation. The county’s HR director came to him, Powers said, and explained that allowing retired employees to be rehired was a way the county could save some money – if a previously retired employee had started drawing their pension, the county didn’t have to make a contribution. Based on that, he recommended the policy to the board. In hindsight, Powers said, he should have taken the time to do additional due diligence. He should also have recognized that he needed to communicate earlier with a stronger effort. Just because he was tired of talking about it, did not mean that it didn’t need to be talked about, he said.

The decision had resulted in a change on the county board and was an issue in the county prosecutor’s race. Asked what the urgency was to make that decision before gathering more information, Powers explained it was the context of needing to get the savings for the 2005 budget. It’s still having repercussions seven years later, Powers said, and it was a decision made without complete understanding that he should have had as the board’s chief policy advisor.

Sense of Urgency, Excitement, Creativity

Asked to describe a time when he had a greater sense of urgency than those around him and what he did about it, Powers described a decision he made to eliminate the position of a department head who oversaw three key departments: building codes, facilities, planning. He said that despite the talk when he’d been hired about the difficult budget situation, he didn’t see evidence of much action on tough budgets.

So when the department head retired, he made the strategic decision to eliminate the position immediately – he didn’t wait until budget time. Because that department head was a good manager, he said, the three lower level administrators of those departments were ready for more responsibility and were ready to step up. Powers described it as driving decisions down to the lowest levels in the organization.

Asked what the immediate reaction was, Powers said it was positive, but allowed that there was some pushback. Sometimes he gets pushback from one of the three department heads. But the decision was certainly positive with the rest of the organization, Powers said, because people saw that he was going to do what he’s said he was going to do when he interviewed for the job.

Asked for an example of a situation where he created excitement about a repetitive routine, Powers described how his basic approach to repetitive routines is to ask: Do we really have to do this? Maybe we don’t have to do it at all, or maybe we can automate it.

But as an example, he said the task of performing inspections for compliance to building codes was perceived as mundane and repetitive by staff. Contractors felt that the county was unresponsive and bureaucratic, he said. There was not an excitement about helping the customer, he allowed. So the board created a task force to look at building codes and see how the county could be more responsive. The recommendation of the task force was to establish 72 hours as a turnaround time. The building codes management was working with the information systems (IS) department to get a new software package, which was exciting for IS. And the 72-hour turnaround time generated excitement for inspectors because they had standards to meet.

Asked for an example of a creative idea that he implemented and its impact on the bottom line, Powers described how he was now collaborating with another county with tax appraisals. There are fewer and fewer people with the necessary formal accounting certification to sign off on the equalization for the county, he explained. About seven years ago, when the equalization director retired, he decided that the county would try to find a retired assessor with the appropriate certification, and offer essentially to pay that person $30,000 a year for their signature. The alternative, he said, was to pay a $120,000 salary with benefits. So that’s what Marquette County did.

Then that person left, and he looked again to obtain the same kind of services. It turned out that the person who fit retired from neighboring Delta County. That left Delta County in the same situation. So Marquette and Delta counties both share the same assessor, both paying essentially for a signature.

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the city of Ann Arbor government. Click this link for details:Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

]]> 4
Five Questions for Jason Segel Mon, 06 Jun 2011 18:27:42 +0000 Dave Askins Actor Jason Segel is in Ann Arbor this summer for the shoot of a movie called “Five Year Engagement.” With our focus on civics and government affairs, interviews with celebrities are not exactly in The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s wheelhouse. But we wanted to be prepared to interview Mr. Segel, in case we stumble across him.

So we developed five can’t-fail interview questions that respect both Mr. Segel’s vocation as well as our commitment to The Chronicle’s editorial mission.

  1. The movie you’re shooting in Ann Arbor is called “Five Year Engagement.” Five years does seem like a long time for an engagement, but not that long for a street repair tax. Ann Arbor’s five-year street repair millage expires at the end of this year. Based on your experience with Ann Arbor roads, what are your thoughts on renewing this millage?
  2. In the television series, “How I Met Your Mother,” you play an attorney, Marshall Eriksen. In a recent episode, Marshall did work for a client who wanted to demolish a historic building. In light of that checkered past, have you perceived any resentment directed your way by residents of Ann Arbor’s many historic districts?
  3. You recently starred in the movie “Gulliver’s Travels” with Jack Black. Have Ann Arbor’s urban fairy doors given you nightmarish flashbacks to that experience?
  4. Your movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is set in the island paradise of Hawaii, and includes scenes of the ocean and all the wonder of the tropics. Based on any plans and drawings you might have seen of the planned Argo Dam by-pass channel – which will allow for canoeists to circumnavigate the dam without needing to portage, and will allow people to ride inner tubes down a cascading series of pools – and based on the possible (but unlikely) continuation of tax credits for the film industry in Michigan, can you estimate the probability that in the future you would choose to shoot a movie like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” in Ann Arbor? [Alternate question: Sarah Marshall and Marshall Eriksen – is that a coincidence? Don't make us file a FOIA request to find this out.]
  5. You starred in the short-lived television show “Freaks and Geeks,” about a group of high school friends living in a Detroit suburb. Your character, Nick Andopolis, was a marijuana user. What are your views on Ann Arbor’s proposed zoning restriction that would limit the location of medical marijuana dispensaries by creating a 1000-foot buffer around schools?
]]> 2
Art Commission Drafts Artist Selection Form Wed, 09 Mar 2011 16:53:03 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (March 1, 2011): Marsha Chamberlin chaired AAPAC’s March meeting, and began by welcoming guests: Six students from Skyline High School, who were there for a class assignment, and Susan Froelich, the new president of the Arts Alliance.

Susan Froelich

Susan Froelich, the new president of the Ann Arbor-based Arts Alliance, at the March 1, 2011 meeting of the Ann Arbor public art commission. She was appointed in late February and replaces former president Tamara Real, who resigned last year. (Photo by the writer.)

Froelich – who was a member and former chair of AAPAC’s predecessor group, the commission for art in public places – told commissioners she was just there to say hello, and that the alliance looked forward to working with AAPAC. She passed out bookmarks promoting the A3Arts web portal, which launched last year and features profiles of artists and institutions in the area, along with an events calendar and other information. Finally, Froelich thanked commissioners for their work.

During the meeting, commissioners approved spending up to $2,000 to get an evaluation of the damaged Sun Dragon at Fuller Pool, and to secure a cost estimate for repair or replacement. Margaret Parker, an AAPAC member and the artist who originally designed the colored-plexiglas sculpture, recused herself from that discussion.

Commissioners also discussed a draft of an artist evaluation rubric and interview protocol, and debated whether local artists should be given extra points in the process. Also debated was the definition of local – they plan to continue the discussion at their next meeting.

Nomination forms for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards are now available from AAPAC’s website, with a May 2 deadline for submission. The awards are given to individuals and institutions for their contributions to public art in Ann Arbor.

Scheduling came up in several different ways. A special meeting has been called to vote on site recommendations from AAPAC’s mural task force. That meeting is set for Friday, March 11 at 11 a.m. on the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron. Commissioners also discussed possibly changing their monthly meeting day. It’s now set for the first Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m., but two commissioners have scheduling conflicts at that time. AAPAC’s newest member, Malverne Winborne, reported that he’d told mayor John Hieftje prior to his nomination that the meeting day would be difficult for him, but that had not been communicated to the rest of the commission.

Updates: Arts Administrator, Golden Paintbrush, CTN

The meeting included updates on a range of topics. Marsha Chamberlin reported that the city had received about 20 applications for the part-time public art administrator job. They’ll be setting up an interview panel, and meeting in mid-March to review applications and select candidates to interview.

Margaret Parker pointed out that nominations are being solicited for the city’s Golden Paintbrush awards, given annually to recognizing contributions to art in public places. Winners in 2010 were Abracadabra Jewelry on East Liberty, the University of Michigan Health System, and Tamara Real, former president of the Arts Alliance. Nomination forms are available on AAPAC’s website. [.pdf of the two-page nomination form] The deadline for applications is May 2, and winners are announced in June.

Commissioners also discussed an interview that was set to be taped the following day for “Other Perspectives,” a local talk show hosted by Nancy Kaplan and aired on Community Television Network’s Channel 17. [The show does not have a regular time slot – schedules are available on CTN's website.]

“This was dropped in our laps rather unexpectedly after the last commission meeting,” Chamberlin said. She indicated that Kaplan had asked for two commissioners, and the consensus was that Jeff Meyers and Cheryl Zuellig would be interviewed – Meyers because of the mural program he’s leading, and Zuellig because of her background in landscape architecture, allowing her to speak about the role of public art in different environments.

Zuellig said her only concern is that she and Meyers are relatively new commissioners – she joined in 2008, and Meyers was appointed last year. She wondered whether Chamberlin or Parker, who’ve both been involved with the commission since its early days, would be better suited to field questions about AAPAC’s history, given their institutional knowledge.

Parker replied that Zuellig and Meyers would be well-suited to discuss recent projects, indicating that the focus should be on that, including the tree sculptures at West Park and the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture being installed at the new municipal center building. Parker offered to be the backup, if either Zuellig or Meyers couldn’t make it.

[In response to a follow-up email from The Chronicle on March 7, Kaplan said the interview took place with Meyers and Zuellig, but that the air times haven't yet been scheduled.]

Projects: Fuller Road Station, Artist Selection, Sun Dragon

As chair of the projects committee, Connie Brown gave updates on three items: (1) a task force for public art at the proposed Fuller Road Station; (2) protocols for artist selection and interviews; and (3) repair of the Sun Dragon sculpture at Fuller Pool.

Projects: Fuller Road Station

Brown reported that the public art task force for Fuller Road Station held its first meeting on Feb. 17. The project is a large parking structure and bus depot jointly funded by the University of Michigan/city of Ann Arbor, and located on Fuller Road, near the UM medical complex. Eventually, it might include a rail station as well. Ann Arbor city council has not yet officially approved the project, though it has awarded funding for a preliminary design phase.

The task force got a project overview at their meeting, Brown said, and looked at architectural drawings to see how the public art component fits in with the project’s different phases. Brown said that at their next task force meeting they’ll discuss a process for how to proceed with the public art component, which has a budget of $250,000. The project’s architects have already identified locations for public art within the structure, as well as the kind of art they’d like. [Originally, they had indicated the art would be large fritted glass panels with images imprinted on them of bikes, buses and trains. That was later altered to have the images inserted between two panels of laminated glass.]

Brown said that part of the task force’s conversation was whether the artwork identified for the project met AAPAC’s criteria.

Projects: Protocols for Artist Selection, Interviews

Malverne Winborne, a member of the projects committee, told commissioners he had drafted an artist evaluation rubric and interview protocol with the intent to “objectify our subjectivity.” He asked for their feedback – in particular, he wanted to know whether any preference should be given to local artists.

The artist selection criteria consisted of 10 items, each evaluated on a scale of 0 (did not meet the requirement) to 2 (exceeded the requirement):

  1. Quality of presentation and artistic merit.
  2. Technical abilities.
  3. Strength of past artworks.
  4. Proven ability to work effectively with the community.
  5. Proven ability to work effectively as a team member within an architectural context.
  6. Experience working in public settings.
  7. Experience fabricating and installing permanent artwork working in public settings.
  8. Reflects the city’s commitment to diversity and cultural richness.
  9. Suitable for the site policies.
  10. Local artist.

The category of local artist would be scored with yes (2 points) or no (0 points) in the selection criteria.

Winborne proposed six categories for the artist interview protocol, each ranked from 1 (poor) to 4 (superior). In addition, each category was given a weighted percentage:

  1. Statement of understanding of the site and its constraints (10%)
  2. Ability to translate and create (50%)
  3. Willingness/ability to work collaboratively (15%)
  4. Effective work style/plan (15%)
  5. Previous experience (10%)
  6. Local artist (10% bonus points)

Winborne said it’s set up so that it wouldn’t exclude local artists, but that you’d get extra points if you are from this area. Margaret Parker pointed out that the preference for a local artist also could be incorporated into the call for art – either the request for qualifications (RFQ) or request for proposals (RFP).

Elaine Sims asked what “local” means – just Ann Arbor? Or would it indicate someone from the region or state? Winborne said that’s something for AAPAC to define. Given that AAPAC projects are funded through the city’s Percent for Art program, which is funded by Ann Arbor taxpayers, then defining “local” as “Ann Arbor” might make sense, he said.

Connie Brown was concerned that limiting it to Ann Arbor residents was too narrow. There’s a difference between appreciating local artists and being insular, she said. A lot of artists live only 15-20 minutes away, but are outside of Washtenaw County.

Cheryl Zuellig said that for her, considering the funding source was compelling. She suggested either going with Ann Arbor, or broadening the definition to include the entire state.

Winborne said another possibility would be to decrease the weighted percentage to 5% or 2% – or even “1% for public art!” he joked. That way, if a local artist isn’t superior, it won’t make much of a difference in the selection process. But if there are two artists of equal quality, he said, “I think we should give it to the local person.”

Commissioners also discussed the importance of assessing an artist’s technical abilities. Parker noted that in the past, they’ve selected artists who later changed their designs – in some cases, those design changes weren’t within the artist’s capability to execute, resulting in things like improper welds that later rusted. Zuellig suggested adding something specifically to the interview protocol that would allow an artist to talk about their technical skills – that could be illuminating, she said.

Winborne wondered how they’d handle the situation in which an artist doesn’t actually fabricate the work. [This is the case for the artwork designed by Herbert Dreiseitl for the municipal center – the city is hiring other contractors to build the sculpture.] Sims thought that even if the artist doesn’t build the artwork themselves, they’d have a relationship with a fabricator. “If someone’s pretty iffy on that kind of stuff, that’s a red flag,” she said.

Winborne said the topic seemed important, and offered to work with Parker to modify the interview protocol, incoporating an item on technical skills. He suggested that commissioners email him with other suggestions, and he’d deliver a new draft to them before their April meeting.

Projects: Sun Dragon

As she has in the past, Margaret Parker recused herself from deliberations regarding the Sun Dragon – a work of hers that was commissioned by the city and installed at Fuller Pool. She left the room for the duration of the discussion.

By way of background, the Sun Dragon – a sculpture made of colored plexiglas that’s attached to a beam holding Fuller Pool’s solar-heated shower – has been a topic of discussion for several months. It had been damaged last spring by workers during repair of a beam that supported the piece. In July 2010, AAPAC voted to allocate nearly $7,000 in funds to repair the piece, to be taken out of an endowed maintenance fund for public art. [Because the Sun Dragon was created prior to the 2007 city council resolution that established the Percent for Art program, the Percent for Art funds can't be used to repair it.]

Commissioners later learned that only about $2,000 from the endowed fund was available for use, and wouldn’t cover the cost of repair. Subsequently, at AAPAC’s November 2010 meeting, another option was offered by Sue McCormick, the city’s public services administrator. From The Chronicle’s meeting report:

McCormick had suggested that the Sun Dragon be considered as an “asset renewal” – that is, it could come to AAPAC as a new project. That way, AAPAC could fund it under the Percent for Art program, treating it just like any other proposal. McCormick had said it could be paid for out of the parks or water funds. According to a budget summary distributed to commissioners, there is $16,408 available for public art from the parks millage, and $115,164 from the water fund.

One commissioner jokingly referred to it as “creative financing,” and another quipped that they shouldn’t ask too many questions about it. Cheryl Zuellig clarified that as a new project, they would start by creating an intake form for it – it would then be handled by the projects committee. Jeff Meyers expressed concern about opening the door for other projects like this.

There was some discussion about what exactly the Percent for Art program could pay for – could it also cover the cost of the structural beam at Fuller Pool, even though that beam would need to be in place regardless of the public art installed on it? Parker said she would check with McCormick about that.

At AAPAC’s March 2011 meeting, Brown reported that Parker had filled out a project intake form, and they’d be treating it like a new project. She said it was worth noting that the Sun Dragon is an important piece of art and that people have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Brown presented a proposal to allocate $1,500 to pay a structural engineer and fabricator, who would evaluate the piece and the structure that supports it, and make a recommendation to AAPAC about what should be done to repair it. After that, she said, they can get a quote from the fabricator, and figure out which city unit should pay for it – likely, it would be paid for out of the city’s parks and recreation budget.

Brown said she took a guess at the $1,500 cost – it might cost more for this initial step, she said.

Elaine Sims asked whether they’d already made the decision that the Sun Dragon is an asset worth repairing or replacing. [The other alternative would be to decommission the piece.] Brown said that the decision was make last year, when they voted to approve endowment funds for repair.

Sim said she had no problem approving funds for an evaluation, as long as they’d later have the chance to vote again, after a quote came back for the cost of repairs.

Venita Harrison, who works for McCormick, pointed out that the city employs structural engineers who might be available to evaluate the piece, rather than hiring an outside consultant. She offered to check on that possibility.

Brown again suggested that they might want to increase the amount earmarked for evaluating the project. It would make sense for a structural engineer, fabricator and the artist to work together to come up with a solution, she said. That way, they might also be able to come up with an estimated cost for repair or replacement.

Cheryl Zuellig noted that Parker’s intake form already included an estimate for replacing it: $9,306.80. [That amount includes a $500 artist fee, $4,000 for labor, $2,780 for materials and $2,360 for installation, plus a 6% tax of $166.80.] This project has already gone on too long, Zuellig said – they need some options so that they can make a final decision about it.

Sims expressed concern about moving ahead without a better idea of what the final cost would be. Brown pointed out that they couldn’t do that without an evaluation – and that wasn’t free.

Chamberlin proposed increasing the upper limit for the cost of getting an evaluation to $2,000, and requesting that the structural engineer, fabricator and artist deliver recommendations on how to repair or replace the Sun Dragon, along with a cost estimate for the work.

After further discussion and some collaborative wordsmithing, commissioners crafted a resolution to approve up to $2,000 to hire a city engineer to: (1) perform a structural evaluation of the Sun Dragon’s support system and the piece itself; (2) to determine if design alternations or changes in fabrication are needed for ease of maintenance; and (3) to provide design and fabrication cost estimates. A fabricator and the artist would be included in performing this evaluation.

Outcome: An initial vote resulted in approval from four commissioners – Sims did not vote, saying she still had reservations. When it was pointed out that four votes were insufficient to pass the resolution, Sims said she’d vote in favor of it.

Special Meeting, Monthly Meetings, Retreat

Three meeting-related items were on the March agenda: (1) Scheduling a special meeting to discuss AAPAC’s mural program; (2) scheduling a retreat, and (3) revisiting the monthly meeting schedule.

Jeff Meyers, who did not attend last week’s meeting, had been trying to schedule a special meeting for the mural program he’s leading, so that commissioners could vote to approve sites for the murals that have been recommended by a task force. But commissioners have been unable to reach a consensus about when to hold the special meeting. Elaine Sims expressed the sentiment that daytime meetings are difficult to attend, and requested that any meeting be held at the end of a business day.

[In a follow-up email to The Chronicle, Meyers said the special meeting has been scheduled for Friday, March 11 at 11 a.m. on the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron.]

Also problematic for some commissioners is the regular monthly meeting time – the first Tuesday of the month, at 4:30 p.m. Meetings often begin late, as many commissioners have difficulty getting there by 4:30. And for two in particular – Meyers and Malverne Winborne, the newest commissioner who joined AAPAC late last year – the day of the week is an issue. Late last year, AAPAC moved its regular meetings from the second Tuesday to the first Tuesday of the month, hoping that it would be more convenient. But that day is actually more difficult for Meyers’ work schedule.

As for Winborne, he reported that before he accepted the appointment, he communicated to mayor John Hieftje that Tuesdays in general are difficult because he often has evening meetings scheduled with charter schools on that day. [Winborne is director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office. The mayor is responsible for nominating members to most city boards and commissions, with city council voting to approve those nominations.] Margaret Parker said no one communicated that information to AAPAC before Winborne was appointed.

When Winborne said that if it can’t be changed, one option would be for him to step down, other commissioners suggested it might be possible to find an alternative day. They decided to poll all members and try to find a better time for everyone.

Cheryl Zuellig pointed out that in general, it’s better to find a date that works for the regular monthly meetings than to schedule additional special meetings.

Commissioners also nailed down a date for a retreat: Thursday, March 31 at 5:30 p.m. Zuellig offered the conference room of her employer – JJR, at 110 Miller – as a location for the retreat. Until mid-2009, AAPAC held its regular monthly meetings at that spot, until concerns about public accessibility prompted them to move to the seventh floor of the City Center building at Fifth and Huron, where the city rents office space.

There was some discussion about whether Connie Pulcipher of the city’s systems planning unit could facilitate the retreat, as she’s done in the past. Venita Harrison, a city management assistant who serves as a liaison for AAPAC to the city’s administration, said she would ask if Pulcipher is available.

Connie Brown asked if AAPAC would have access to the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), which identifies major projects that the city intends to pursue. [At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the CIP for fiscal years 2012-2017.] Harrison pointed out that the council hasn’t approved the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2011 – so it’s unclear which capital projects will be funded. [This is relevent to AAPAC because its projects are funded through the city's Percent for Art program, which sets aside 1% of the cost of any city-funded capital project to be used for public art, up to a cap of $250,000 per project.]

Brown said that at some point, AAPAC needs to be able to identify upcoming projects so that they can get involved earlier in the process, rather than being on the tail end. Harrison replied that another difficulty is AAPAC’s timeline – the Percent for Art ordinance specifies that by April 1 the commission must submit to city council  ”a plan detailing potential projects and desirable goals to be pursued in the next fiscal year.” Harrison noted that this date doesn’t correspond to the city’s budget cycle. City council generally approves its budget in May.

Community Foundation Funds

Marsha Chamberlin reported that AAPAC had received a letter from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, notifying them about earnings that are available to spend from an endowment for public art maintenance that’s managed by the foundation. For the most recent year, earnings were $602. An additional $2,127 has previously accumulated and is also available for AAPAC’s use. The money is restricted to maintenance projects. Examples of past projects that have tapped those funds include repair of ceramic tile artwork at the Fourth & Washington parking structure.

When Chamberlin indicated that according to the letter they needed to respond by March 7, Margaret Parker said that in the past, the deadline has been flexible. She said that in past years, they simply haven’t responded to the letter.

Connie Brown, chair of the projects committee, reported that there are no maintenance projects in the pipeline so far this year. After some discussion, commissioners reached consensus for Chamberlin to contact the foundation and ask for some flexibility on the deadline.

Commissioners present: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Venita Harrison, city management assistant; Susan Froelich, Arts Alliance.

Absent: Cathy Gendron, Jeff Meyers.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, April 5 Wednesday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m., 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St. [confirm date] Update: At a special meeting on Friday, March 11, AAPAC members decided to move their regular monthly meetings to the fourth Wednesday of each month, beginning April 27.

]]> 4
AAPS: Final Phase of Superintendent Search Mon, 28 Feb 2011 21:01:13 +0000 Jennifer Coffman By week’s end, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees will choose from among three finalists to fill its open superintendent position. Finalists include: Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); and Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon).

The public is invited to interview the three finalists at community forums to be held on Friday, March 4 from 6-8:30 p.m. in the Pioneer High School cafeteria annex, 601 W. Stadium Blvd. Also open to the public are the candidates’ second interviews with the board, which begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 5 in the main conference room of the AAPS Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St. The board’s final deliberations on their preferred candidate will immediately follow the final interviews. Those deliberations are expected to start around noon.

The narrowing of the field of six candidates took place during the week of Feb. 14, when the board interviewed all the candidates. The board made their selection of the finalists at the end of the week on Friday, following the last two interviews. Visits to the home districts by three board members had originally been planned to take place the week of Feb. 21, but inclement weather led to a decision to cancel those visits.

Candidate-submitted profiles and resumes are also available on the AAPS website. Based on candidate responses in the first round of interviews, which included 24 questions, for this report The Chronicle has compiled profiles of the three final candidates. [.pdf of AAPS first-interview questions

Who Are the Candidates?

Green, Muñoz, and Redinger are all career educators.

AAPS Candidates Munoz Green Redinger

AAPS superintendent candidates: Michael Muñoz; Patricia Green; Shelley Redinger

They have all worked as classroom teachers, principals, and district-level administrators. Muñoz also has experience as a school counselor.

Green and Redinger are sitting superintendents in districts with roughly 8,100 and 4,000 students, respectively; Muñoz is currently the chief academic officer of the Des Moines Public Schools – which is the largest district of the candidates being considered, with nearly 32,000 students.

By comparison, total K-12 AAPS enrollment as of September 2010 was 16,440.

When asked why they were interested in changing positions at this point in their professional careers, each candidate mentioned the attractiveness of AAPS, and a desire to challenge themselves further.

Green spoke of being strongly drawn to the AAPS strategic plan, as well as to the district’s five-year technology plan. Muñoz stated that he has a passion to work with a diverse student population, and called the district’s commitment to personalized education for each student impressive.

Redinger’s answer was the most personal – she noted that the presence of the University of Michigan might allow her to teach in an adjunct capacity, that Ann Arbor was one of the best places to live and raise a family, and that it would be easy for her husband, an engineer, to transfer to a “sister company” in the area.

All three candidates are married; Muñoz has two adult children, and Redinger has a second-grade child.

On Quality Education and the AAPS Strategic Plan

All three candidates expressed a vision of quality education that is created jointly by the community of stakeholders, and is based on high expectations for all students. They each noted the importance of listening and building relationships immediately upon starting work in the district.

Green asserted that the strategic plan should be the “guiding force and blueprint for success” in the district, and said she would focus on it “like a laser beam.” Muñoz focused on the importance of communicating about progress on the strategic plan’s strategies, and said he would ask for formal updates from principals and his leadership team, but also make frequent informal observations in the schools on a regular basis to monitor the plan’s implementation. Redinger noted that the AAPS five-year strategic plan goes only through the current year, and that the timing would allow her to “come in midstream and help to make it better.”

On Public Education Advocacy

When asked how the role of the superintendent relates to public education advocacy, the candidates’ responses diverged quite a bit.

Green asserted that advocacy on a local level should be one of the highest priorities of a superintendent, and stressed the importance of having achieved community support before “something goes bump in the night.”

She gave examples of how she has involved local religious leaders and senior citizens in the schools, and stressed the importance of being seen in the community.

“If you can get it on my calendar, I’m there,” she said. “People need to understand where their tax dollars are going.

Muñoz also argued for being a leader in the community as well as the district, but focused his response on the importance of lobbying at the state level.

Saying he feels it is his responsibility to educate lawmakers so that they can made good decisions, he noted his involvement with a group of eight urban school districts in Iowa who lobby together.

As examples of his efforts, Muñoz described trying to persuade the governor not to cut funding for the state’s universal preschool program, and speaking about the importance of supporting after-school programs. Finally, Muñoz asserted that all educators need to be involved in state-level decision-making, saying, “You have the ability to influence decisions – you can’t just sit back and complain.”

Redinger said advocacy efforts should always stress that what you’re doing is best for students. She pointed to a bill that she and her human resources director had written that had gained support from both Republicans and Democrats in her state legislature.

When AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte asked her to elaborate on the bill, Redinger explained that it would be a provision to limit the percentage of state funding that could go toward funding of public school employee salaries. The bill, she said, would limit what employee groups could ask for in the collective bargaining process.

On Student Achievement

In response to a question about how to positively affect student achievement across the district, Muñoz offered the most detailed answer. He cited research showing that one of the top factors affecting student achievement is the capacity of teachers to teach effectively.  Muñoz’s approach requires each school to set aside time for teacher-led teams to analyze results of frequent formative testing, down to the level of individual test items.  In this way, Muñoz explained, teachers learn from each other about how best to teach so that students meet specific standards. Muñoz also advocated for the intensive engagement of parents and the community in the education of children, and cited many examples of his work in that area.

Green said she thinks of achievement gaps as gaps in opportunity, and suggested offering as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible, as well as courses to prepare students for college-entry tests. She advocated for the use of achievement data in decision-making about which programs should be created to help struggling students, and also for the standardization of the curriculum and its delivery from school to school to ensure equal opportunity.

Redinger suggested that focusing on pre-kindergarten is essential to closing the achievement gap. Also, like Green, she stressed the importance of maintaining a strong AP program, and like Muñoz, she asserted that at-risk students benefit hugely from involving families in their learning.

On Budget Challenges and Program Offerings

All three final candidates named the economic downturn as the most critical issue currently facing education. Muñoz added that the economy has had a large impact on demographics of the student population, with increasing numbers of students struggling with the effects of living in a lower socioeconomic status.

Green highlighted how in her current district, she has aligned every line item of her district’s budget to its strategic plan in order to justify each one. Similarly, Muñoz and Redinger noted the importance of assessing every program in terms of its impact on student achievement, and being selective while still offering a wide variety of options for students and parents. Muñoz also emphasized the importance of ensuring equity of access to the programs being offered. As an example, he gave the provision of transportation to specialized programs, such as an International Baccalaureate (IB) program in his current district.

Redinger noted the importance of maintaining enrollment by offering programs that will help the district to remain competitive with local private and charter schools. She also asserted that the programs being offered at the high school level need to be sure to prepare students to compete globally.

Green similarly argued that the lack of standardization in testing across states is leading to a lack of student preparation, and suggested that the future of testing should consider international standards. She praised AAPS for embarking on an IB program, as well as the “lab school” initiative in partnership with the University of Michigan, and argued for the importance of “ramping up” community and business partnerships in this economy.

When asked about innovative approaches they had used to address budget constraints while preserving programs, Muñoz suggested giving more flexibility to principals, using a citizens’ budget advisory committee, and asking the board to name its highest priorities. He also described using a budget planning process very similar to the one used last year in AAPS, which included holding community forums, and meeting with union leadership to get input.

As budget strategies, Redinger listed offering buy-outs for veteran staff members, employing energy-saving strategies in buildings, and outsourcing her district’s food service program.

Green acknowledged that her school board has taxing authority, and that they had to raise taxes last year to meet the budget shortfall facing her district. She also suggested using zero-based budgeting, which she described as a corporate model based on justifying a return on investments.

On Collective Bargaining, Evaluation, and Compensation

All three finalists described the importance of meeting regularly with union leadership in order to develop relationships beyond the bargaining table, and gave examples of how such regular contact had been productive in their districts.

Regarding evaluation and compensation of teachers and administrators, Green advocated for merit pay for principals, but not for teachers. She described the merit pay formula as including a large array of factors, including student performance. Green said she believes that everyone is on a developmental continuum and that she uses evaluation to give a tremendous amount of feedback in order to support development.

Redinger said it’s important to have a research-based evaluation document, and that people should see evaluations as a way to grow. She offers teachers stipends for being “teacher-leaders,” and won a grant to start an “employee highlight” program which offers successful teachers bonuses for their classrooms.

Regarding compensation, Muñoz acknowledged that his state does not currently support merit pay, but noted that may change soon. He argued that merit pay could include looking at achievement scores, but should emphasize growth more than performance. After noting that he had served on a committee that developed the evaluation instrument used for administrators and principals statewide, Muñoz added that in his district he is also looking at ways to supplement the state instrument with a component that would allow for more personal reflection. Similarly, he said, teacher evaluation should be set up to help the teacher grow and receive assistance if needed.

In response to a follow-up question from trustee Glenn Nelson regarding when to abandon an improvement path, Muñoz described a time when he had to remove an ineffective principal. “I believe that what we do is so important,” he said, “that we owe it to kids to give them the best – it’s a disservice to students to leave someone in place who know is not the best.”

On Leadership and Hiring

All three candidates mentioned the importance of having high expectations of senior staff, while allowing them significant autonomy. Redinger said she looks for a strong work ethic and positive attitude in hiring, and listed ways in which she holds staff accountable. Green and Muñoz each described looking for staff who are team players, and stressed the importance of giving feedback, coaching, and praise to staff members to help them improve if necessary.

On Diversity

In working with diverse populations, Green asserted that both unity and difference need to be celebrated. She said she was proud she had been awarded a “spirit of unity” award by a local community-based, anti-racism group in her area.

Muñoz and Redinger both emphasized the importance of reaching out to families of students from ethnically or linguistically diverse populations, and gave multiple examples of community outreach they had initiated.

All three candidates also mentioned the importance of providing appropriate professional development with staff to develop cultural competency, as well as to ensure that special education students are welcomed and supported.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Glenn Nelson, Christine Stead, and Simone Lightfoot.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

Additional reporting contributed by Chronicle intern Eric Anderson.

]]> 2
AAPS Set for Six Superintendent Interviews Mon, 14 Feb 2011 02:00:15 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Feb. 9, 2011): At its Wednesday meeting, the AAPS board announced six semi-finalists for the district’s open superintendent position. In alphabetical order, the candidates and the school districts in which they are currently working are: William DeFrance (Eaton Rapids Public Schools, Michigan); Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania.); Paul Long (Pennsbury School District, Pennsylvania); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon); and Manuel Rodriguez (Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland).

Christine Stead, Andy Thomas, Ann Arbor Public Schools

Trustee Andy Thomas, makes a point during the AAPS board discussion on interview questions for superintendent candidates. Seated to his right at the board table is trustee Christine Stead. (Photo by the writer.)

Candidate bios and photos, along with detailed information about when and where candidate interviews will be held next week, are available on the AAPS website. The public is invited to attend, but not participate in, this first round of interviews. The board decided on more than 20 questions to be asked during a two-hour interview of each candidate, and plans to select two or three finalists for the position immediate following the last interview on Friday, Feb. 18.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Stone High School successfully won board approval to change its name to Ann Arbor Technological High School, and Skyline High School principal Sulura Jackson was honored for being named principal of the year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. Jackson will now move on to compete nationally.

Superintendent Candidate Selection

At its evening meeting, board president Deb Mexicotte explained that the board had met in closed session during the afternoon that day to review a set of 10 candidates recommended by Ray & Associates, the search firm hired to help the district find a new superintendent. Later in the afternoon, after the closed session meeting, the board shifted to an open session to narrow down the 10 suggested candidates to a list of six semi-finalists.

Superintendent Candidate Selection: Feb. 9 Afternoon Meeting

During the open session on the afternoon of Feb. 9, board members and consultants referred to the candidates by number. A matrix provided by the search firm aided the deliberation process by asking trustees to compare each pair of candidates (1 vs. 2, 1 vs. 3, etc.) to determine the stronger candidate in each pair. After tallying board members’ choices, the firm announced that six candidates had risen to the top.

Trustees noted that the six semi-finalists represented a strong diversity of experiences, gender, and ethnicity. Ray & Associates staff pointed out that two of the six candidates are participating in searches in other districts as well, and that AAPS may lose one or both of them from the search.

Trustee Glenn Nelson said he would like to keep the pool of six rather than try to narrow the field further without interviews. Trustee Susan Baskett expressed concern that the sizes of some of the candidates’ current school districts are much smaller than AAPS, and said she was disappointed that the pool did not contain more candidates from districts of comparable size.

At the Feb. 9 afternoon meeting, the board agreed to postpone some items on the agenda of the Feb. 9 regular evening meeting in order to discuss further the superintendent candidate selection, and finalize the set of interview questions.

Superintendent Candidate Selection: Feb. 9 Evening Meeting

Bill Newman, Al Johnson, and Marlene Davis from Ray & Associates announced that they had contacted all six semi-finalists in the hour and a half between the earlier meeting and the regular evening meeting, and that all six remained interested in the position, and were available to be interviewed during the week of Feb. 14.

Newman then read the names of the six candidates, and Mexicotte asked if the board needed to do anything formally to accept the names. Newman suggested a vote.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously in a roll call vote to accept the six candidates as presented by Newman for interviews next week. Mexicotte expressed appreciation of the search firm, saying, “Thanks for bringing us to this point, and thanks in advance for bringing us through the rest of this process.”

Superintendent Candidate Interviews

Ray & Associates representatives remained at the podium in order to help the board set the interview schedule, and offer advice about the interview process, site visits, and community forums. Following that, the board took a brief break and then resumed discussion on its own in order to hammer out the interview questions.

Superintendent Candidate Interviews: Schedule

Johnson suggested conducting interviews from Tuesday through Friday so as not to pull candidates away from their spouses on Valentine’s Day. He requested that the board identify six two-hour time slots to hold interviews, and said that the firm would then fit the candidates into the slots, depending on their availability. Johnson also cautioned the board not to conduct more than three interviews in one day.

Nelson noted that the board needed to be sure to leave time after the final interview to deliberate and choose the list of finalists.

Trustee Christine Stead suggested that a regular schedule of some sort, perhaps four hours a day, would best accommodate the public’s ability to attend, but trustee Irene Patalan pointed out that the public would have a chance to participate in the second round of interviews. Trustee Simone Lightfoot countered, “I want the public to feel like they can weigh in on these six.” She encouraged the public to reach out to the board with opinions on the semi-finalists via e-mail or phone.

After sorting through candidates’ and trustees’ availability over the four suggested days, the board settled on the following schedule:

  • Tues. Feb. 15, 1-3 p.m.
  • Wed. Feb. 16, 1-3 p.m.
  • Wed. Feb. 16, 3:15-5:15 p.m.
  • Wed. Feb. 16, 6-8 p.m.
  • Fri. Feb. 18, 1-3 p.m.
  • Fri. Feb. 18, 3:15-5:15 p.m.

Board deliberation on the candidates will follow the final interview on Friday.

Superintendent Candidate Interviews: Location

Mexicotte noted that the firm had suggested holding interviews at a location off-site, but still local, such as a hotel. Trustee Andy Thomas questioned why there would be an advantage to holding interviews off-site as opposed to at the Balas administration building on South State Street.

Johnson noted that the “natural curiosity of people … can get disruptive.” Mexicotte agreed that holding interviews at Balas could be a disruption to employees’ workday.

Newman added that the main reason for suggesting a hotel is for the candidates’ ease. Hotels simply make it easy for candidates to be where they need to be, he said.

Patalan added that during the previous superintendent search, the board met at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), and that she found it valuable to “get out of [her] element.” Lightfoot expressed concern that getting to the WISD was “a little nuanced” and that it may be difficult for candidates to find. Mexicotte agreed that while holding interviews at WISD might save some money, because there would be no charge to use the rooms, any savings might be offset by having to pay for transportation to bring candidates to the site.

Nelson and Stead each recommended the Campus Inn, since it could allow candidates to see more of downtown Ann Arbor during their brief visits. Mexicotte expressed concern about parking, and suggested the Sheraton, which is near Balas and often used by the district. Lightfoot agreed with Mexicotte, again saying that it was important to encourage the community to attend, and that choosing a site with ample public parking would facilitate that.

Board secretary Amy Osinski said it might be difficult to get rooms at the WISD during business hours, and suggested Weber’s Inn, which has more parking, but is still local.

The board requested that Osinski try to book rooms for the interviews in the following order: the Campus Inn, the Sheraton, and then the WISD. [In a follow-up call with Osinski, she explained to The Chronicle that all three options were either unavailable or under construction, leading to the outcome of holding the interviews at the Courtyard Marriott, located at 3205 Boardwalk.]

Johnson suggested setting up the interview room with the board seated in a U-shape, with the candidate facing the board and space for the public behind the board.

Newman noted that Osinski should also reserve rooms at a hotel for the candidates, and that rooms should be scattered rather than in a block.

Superintendent Candidate Interviews: Process

Regarding the interview process, Newman suggested assigning questions so that each trustee asks the same questions of each candidate, and having Mexicotte keep time and advise candidates of how they are using their time. He suggested asking 20-25 questions over two hours, beginning with an icebreaker. He also reminded the board that it was illegal to ask about candidates’ personal lives, families, etc.

Mexicotte asked if the firm would recommend having candidates make a presentation on a topic, and Johnson suggested that a presentation might be better placed in the second round of interviews. Newman added that in this first round, it’s important to ask the same questions of each candidate, but that in the second round, questions should be tailored to each candidate.

Thomas asked if it was okay to ask follow-up questions, and Johnson suggested that any follow-up questions needed to relate directly to the original question instead of going off into new territory. However, Newman added that board members should not feel so rigidly bound that they feel unsatisfied with an interview. Mexicotte expressed confidence that she could ascertain when a follow-up question was warranted and would facilitate it.

Ray & Associates staff provided the board with a list of 25 sample questions, stressing that they could use all or none of them. Johnson suggested asking questions that were more generic than specific.

Trustees debated about inserting a question regarding the district’s strategic plan, and Davis advised, “The candidates you have asked for have done their due diligence … If you leave it open, you will be surprised where they weave it in.”

Before the search firm departed, Mexicotte asked for confirmation of her understanding of the way visits to candidates’ current workplaces and community forums would be handled.

About the site visits, Newman noted that about half of the boards they work with do them, and that they “can scare candidates off.” He suggested that the board tell Ray & Associates who they want to meet so that the firm can help structure the visit. “You can still do some of the wandering around, but you run the risk of talking to ‘Mike the mechanic’ or ‘Floyd the barber’ whose kid didn’t get enough playing time in the field.”

Lightfoot responded that she was interested in talking to “Mike the mechanic,” and she would be leery of only talking to people who love the candidate. Mexicotte noted that during the last superintendent search, trustees toured facilities and were able to talk to the custodians, lunch room supervisors, and anyone else they ran into on the tour.

Regarding community forums, Newman confirmed that they will take place after the board conducts second interviews, also in open session, with the two or three finalists.  Community members who attend the forums will be able to suggest questions by filling out notecards when they arrive.  Each finalist will meet with the community independently for the same amount of time, and Ray and Associates will ask them the community’s questions one by one.  The same list of questions, asked in the same order, will be used at each community forum.  Community members will then fill out “impression sheets,” rather than recommending one candidate over another.

After the forums, community input will be immediately passed on to board members, who will deliberate in open session until they can recommend a candidate with whom they will enter into negotiations.

Mexicotte thanked Newman, Johnson, and Davis for their assistance with setting the process.

Superintendent Candidate Interviews: Interview Questions

After a brief break, the board reconvened on their own without their search firm consultants in order to select the questions they would use during the first round of interviews.

The board debated setting questions together as a whole, or having a smaller subset of trustees compile them after individual trustees submitted ideas. Mexicotte suggested working for a half hour to complete the question selection. Board members agreed, and though the half hour expanded to over 90 minutes, they did agree on a set of roughly 25 questions.

They began by reviewing the questions suggested by Ray & Associates, and trying to eliminate those they did not like. After considering the first few questions, they reversed gears, trying instead to choose the questions from the suggested list they really liked. Their goal was to start with a shorter list, leaving more room to add questions suggested by the community, as well as their own questions.

Trustees worked to word questions so that candidates would not be encouraged to use buzzwords, but that would allow candidates opportunities to give examples, and to elaborate in a natural way.

In the end, questions were included that addressed:

  • candidates’ strengths and weaknesses
  • relationship-building between the superintendent and the board
  • the definition of “quality education”
  • partnering with higher education
  • delegating authority while managing accountability
  • budget innovations
  • working with diverse communities
  • student achievement
  • leadership style influences
  • building consensus
  • the role of the superintendent in public advocacy
  • handling decisions unpopular with the public
  • approaches to labor negotiations
  • diversity of academic program offerings
  • hiring decisions
  • meshing the incoming superintendent’s vision with the district’s strategic plan already in place

Mexicotte agreed to collect all of the agreed-upon wording changes, order the questions appropriately, and send out a final list to board members for review.

Stone School to Become “Ann Arbor Tech”

At the first briefing of the Stone High School name change at the most recent regular board meeting on Jan. 26, 2011, the board suggested that the Stone community consider the name “Ann Arbor Technological High School” instead of the name originally suggested – “Ann Arbor Technical High School.”

At the second briefing on Feb. 9, AAPS assistant superintendent for secondary education, Joyce Hunter, reported that Stone principal Sheila Brown took the board’s suggestion back to her stakeholders, and was now recommending the name Ann Arbor Technological High School, the colors black and gold, and The Knights as the mascot.

The board asked Brown if there was a high level of support for the revised name. Brown responded that the students, staff and community are excited about the name change either way, since the working name will be the same – Ann Arbor Tech, or A2T. She thanked her principal’s advisory team, and said they are already working on preparations for the roll-out celebration, should the new name be approved.

Mexicotte thanked Brown for coming out to the second briefing.

Outcome: The proposal to rename Stone School “Ann Arbor Technological High School,” abbreviated as “Ann Arbor Tech” was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda, which also included the approval of minutes, and a policy update to align the process of setting graduation requirements with current practice in the district. During the short second briefing on the policy update, Nelson explained, “The spirit of this is to make it clear that the board is the body that sets graduation requirements and the superintendent is the person responsible for implementing those requirements.”

Skyline’s Sulura Jackson Named Principal of the Year

Interim superintendent Robert Allen introduced Skyline principal Sulura Jackson, who was recently named principal of the year by the Michigan Association of Secondary Schools Principals (MASSP).

Sulura Jackson

Sulura Jackson, principal, Skyline High School

The MASSP representative on hand to present the award explained that Jackson rose to the top of the candidate pool instantly. She will now compete for national principal of the year.

Jackson accepted the award, saying that while it was a cliché to say so, this was one of the high points of her life. She thanked her staff, as well as Skyline’s students and parents, MASSP, and the award’s sponsor, MetLife.

Board members uniformly praised Jackson, saying that the district was fortunate to have her, and that she modeled excellent leadership. Mexicotte thanked Jackson for her service to the district, and Allen added – “We’re expecting even bigger things from you.”

Board Committee Reports

The board has two standing committees. The planning committee consists of: Christine Stead (chair), Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan; the performance committee consists of: Glenn Nelson (chair), Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Board president Deb Mexicotte sits on neither committee.

Performance Committee

Trustee Glenn Nelson briefed the board on the Feb. 4, 2011 meeting of the performance committee. He began by describing the report delivered to the committee by the district’s communications department. It covers the most recent draft of the student achievement report and a presentation on the new positions within the communications department.

According to Nelson, a significant amount of progress has been made on the achievement report. The basic structure – a three-tiered approach, with each tier containing more detail – has been agreed upon. The biggest question remaining is what to include in the second tier – a multi-page brochure with a wide range of statistics that could be included.

“This is like writing a speech – we’re having to talk through what, among all the valid points at our disposal, we include in the second tier,” Nelson said. “For one page, we can agree on what to include, and with the whole website at our disposal, we can agree, now we’re working on the second tier.”

Nelson thanked several staff members for their work on the report: Liz Margolis, AAPS director of communications; Chris Berry Barry, grant and volunteer coordinator; Casey Hans, director of AAPS News; Annette Ferguson, director of business partnerships; and Allie Van Doren, the district webmaster. At the Feb. 4 meeting attended by Chronicle staff, Margolis, Barry, Ferguson and Van Doren discussed their new roles, which Nelson praised at the Feb. 9 meeting.

“We had updates on new efforts working to obtain grants, working to recruit more volunteers, working on partnerships, and an update on AAPS News, which has turned into a very important way of getting information out, and an update on the new website,” Nelson said.

Nelson also reported on the presentation that committee members heard from representatives of the AAPS Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS). The report touched on the special education millage – which will be on the May 3, 2011 ballot for renewal– as well as new programs and software acquisitions made by the SISS department that will improve the district’s special education programs. The report was scheduled to be delivered again at the Feb. 9 board meeting, but was postponed in order to allow for more discussion regarding the superintendent search. Nelson said it was important to keep the millage on people’s minds, and that the report should be presented soon.

Lastly, Nelson talked about the committee’s discussion of the district’s volunteer policy. Recent miscommunications have raised some ire over which volunteers are required to undergo background checks. Nelson said that discussion on this topic will be ongoing, and he encouraged public input at the committee’s next meeting at 9 a.m. on March 1 at the Balas administration building.

Planning Committee

Trustee Christine Stead addressed the board on behalf of the planning committee, which met on Feb. 3, 2011. Stead began by adding to Nelson’s remarks about the communications department, tying Margolis’ efforts back to the district’s need for revenue targets to combat the structural deficit.

“Liz did an excellent job updating us on what the communications department has been up to and outlining the roles we had envisioned,” she said. “In our study session on revenue enhancement, we talked about showing return for investing, so we’re very excited about that team and we have high expectations for that team.”

Stead also mentioned a brief update the committee received on special education from interim superintendent Robert Allen. She emphasized the importance of having plans prepared in case voters don’t approve the upcoming special education millage, as well as having specific campaign strategies for the AAPS district.

Finally, Stead mentioned a Feb. 1 breakfast hosting local legislators to discuss the topic of education reform. Stead said the event was attended by all the local legislative representatives and there was a good amount of support for education priorities. According to Stead, maintaining a focus on education funding among legislators will be especially important when the Michigan Business Tax is repealed, due to the extra $1.5 billion that will be added to the state’s deficit.

Association Reports

At each meeting, the board invites reports from six associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). At the Feb. 9 meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the PTOC.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

The Youth Senate report was delivered by Nikila Lakshmanan, a junior from Community High School, and Felipe Riano, a junior from Huron High School. Riano, who moved to the area from Bogota, Columbia about a year ago, shared his disappointment that Latino students in the district did not identify with their heritage. Furthermore, Riano felt there was a predominance of negative stereotypes about Latinos being lazy or uneducated.

The report by Riano and Lakshmanan centered on efforts to change the perception of Latinos in AAPS by writing articles on important Latin American figures. They hope these articles will be published during the school year to dispel stereotypes. “After we establish a positive understanding of Latinos,” Riano said, “we can start to share the struggles Latinos face without reinforcing negative stereotypes, and better engage Latino students via the cross-cultural relationships we have built.”

Association Reports: AAPAC

Eric Macks of the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education addressed the board on the progress of his six-year-old son, Evan Macks, at Lawton Elementary School. Evan was born with a genetic disorder affecting muscle tone and energy level, but Eric said he was pleased to report that Evan was making a smooth transition to a full-day schedule. “Evan continues to make strides and develop social skills,” he said. “These friendships create a foundation for success.”

Macks also reported on the beginning of disability awareness workshops for fourth-grade students in the district. So far, workshops have been held at Allen, Abbot and Carpenter elementary schools, with 14 more workshops planned for the coming months. The workshops teach students about living with disabilities or impairments, and encourage students to make suggestions to their principals about how to make their schools more accessible for those living with disabilities. Macks thanked the many parent and community volunteers who helped make the workshops possible.

Macks stressed the importance of the upcoming special education millage, which was originally passed in 2004. He emphasized that funding for special education is mandated, and that by passing this millage for another seven years, the district as a whole will benefit. “Passing this millage means more funds will be available for general education students,” he said. “Special education must be funded, and without [its passage], funds would have to come from general operating funds.”

Macks also touched on the possibility of using special education funds to start a Young Adult Program (YAP). The program would provide support for students with learning disabilities through the age of 25. Currently, Saline and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District feature YAPs. Macks felt there is significant parent and community support for a YAP in Ann Arbor. “We can put our brand on young adult programs by designing a program for Ann Arbor students’ needs,” he said. “There are plenty of eligible students to justify and support a program. It’s good for trustees to know there is community and parent support.”

Association Reports: PTOC

Amy Pachera of the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council was on hand to address the board at Wednesday’s meeting. She updated trustees on the PTOC’s upcoming general meeting on March 21 to discuss fundraising strategies. The meeting will bring together district schools in a round-robin-style forum to share best practices for fundraising. Pachera hopes that by sharing information and tactics on a school-to-school basis, the most effective methods can be spread and schools won’t have to “re-invent the wheel” when it comes to fundraising.

She also reported that the recent PTO officer training was very successful.

Superintendent’s Report

Interim superintendent Robert Allen’s report highlighted plans for the upcoming National African-American Parent Involvement Day, which will take place Feb. 14. Allen announced that district schools have set up activities for interested parents during the school day, and encouraged parents to attend school with their children on that day. The annual countywide “NAAPID at Night,” an evening alternative for parents who cannot attend activities during the day, will be held this year at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 at the Saline High School Center for the Performing Arts.

Allen also announced the success of local students being nominated for U.S. presidential and high school athletic scholarships. A number of AAPS students were also selected to perform with the Michigan Middle School All-State Orchestra and Band.

District SIT Appointments

Mexicotte appointed Lightfoot and Stead to the district School Improvement Team, which is slated to begin meeting this month.

Agenda Planning

Mexicotte suggested including the postponed SISS presentation on the agenda of the next regular meeting on March 2, since it would tie-in well with the revenue enhancement discussion, which is also on the agenda for that day. She noted that the other postponed items from the Feb. 9 meeting would also come back in March.

Items from the Board

Stead announced that there is a mini-conference sponsored by the Minority Student Action Network on April 14-15 in Farmington, Mich., and interested board members should attend.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Glenn Nelson, Christine Stead, and Simone Lightfoot. Also present as a non-voting member was Robert Allen, AAPS interim superintendent.

Absent: Vice president Susan Baskett

Next regular meeting: March 2, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 0
AAPS Trustee Selection Set for May 12 Sun, 09 May 2010 02:46:32 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Board of Education study session (May 6, 2010): The six trustees of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education met briefly Thursday evening to interview Noah Hurwitz, the final candidate vying for the board seat vacated by Randy Friedman in April.


Noah Hurwitz, one of five candidates for the open spot on the AAPS board. He is the only one of the five who did not also apply for the seat vacated by Adam Hollier in February. (Photo by the writer.)

Five people have applied for the position: Victoria Haviland, James Corey, Andy Thomas, Jack Panitch, and Noah Hurwitz. The four candidates other than Hurwitz were interviewed by the board in March when they were filling the position ultimately won by Christine Stead. [Chronicle coverage: "AAPS Board Interviews Go Back and Forth"]

Of those four, Panitch and Thomas had also interviewed for an open board position last December. Given that the previous two selection processes occurred recently, the board decided not to require the first four candidates to interview again. However, all five candidates have been asked to make presentations at the regular board meeting on May 12 before the new trustee is selected.

On Thursday, board president Deb Mexicotte asked the board members to introduce themselves to Hurwitz. During those introductions, vice president Irene Patalan pointed out the half a dozen high school students who were in attendance as a requirement of their government class. Two members of the AAPS Parent-Teacher-Organization Council, Martine Perreault and Amy Pachera, also attended. No members of the AAPS administration were present.

This article is organized around the eight interview questions asked of each candidate by the board. The Chronicle has compiled candidates’ answers from each of the previous two interview dates, to facilitate evaluation of the candidates. For each question, we first provide a summary of answers to that question given by the candidates interviewed in March, followed by a summary of the responses given by Hurwitz on Thursday.

Candidate Backgrounds and Interest in the Board

Question 1: “Tell us a little about yourself, what inspired you to apply for the board, what experiences you have that you feel make you a good candidate?

Haviland mentioned that she has been in the field of education as a teacher, a parent – of three kids, all currently at Dicken Elementary – and now a researcher at the University of Michigan School of Education. She mentioned how she was impressed that the board has taken the time to go through this interview process, even though they are required to do it, in the context of everything else they are concerned with right now. Haviland asserted that she “can speak from many perspectives … [and] will be able to hit the ground running and join in the conversation.”

Corey mentioned that he had attended Wines Elementary, Forsythe Middle School, and Pioneer High, and reviewed his career history as teacher and dean of student activities and athletics at two private schools. He explained that he moved back to Ann Arbor to be closer to family, and took a job with the Google Book Search project to make the world’s largest library. Corey described his interest in joining the school board as a way to give back to the community that gave so much to him. He mentioned that he currently helps coach the Pioneer lacrosse team, and that he’s happy to do anything he can to “be of service to [his] community to keep it great.” Trustee Susan Baskett asked Corey if his work with the lacrosse team was paid, and when he confirmed that it was, Mexicotte explained that it would be a conflict of interest to be paid for his lacrosse work if the board selected him as a trustee. Corey said he would be happy to volunteer to help with lacrosse.

Thomas began by describing himself as an Ann Arbor resident since 1972. He said he has one son at Tappan Middle School, and has been involved in AAPS since his son was in kindergarten. Thomas also mentioned being very involved in the AAPS Educational Foundation. Through that nonprofit, he started the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund in honor of his wife, who died of breast cancer, to perpetuate her love of reading. He described his motivation to join the board as largely because of the financial crisis that all schools are facing, and his desire to be part of that solution. Thomas had worked in the healthcare industry, and said he is able to solve problems in a thoughtful, rational manner. He asserted that even though the decisions that need to be made are “so emotional,” he “would be able to bring dispassionate analysis.” He called himself a “numbers guy.”

Panitch described his interest in the schools as stemming from the campaign for the countywide schools millage, which was on the November 2009 ballot. He mentioned that he has a background in financial matters, and had found that there were a lot of questions people had about the millage that were unanswered by the more common materials. In the process of educating himself and others regarding the millage, he said, he noted that the discussion “on the blogs” had some destructive and some informative elements. Panitch introduced himself as coming from “a town with one school and no choices,” and described AAPS as “an amazing asset.” Saying that he wants to preserve educational opportunities for his two children, both currently at Angell Elementary, he said, “When I see the strong opinions out there, I worry about that – that’s what got me involved.”

Hurwitz stated that education is an important thing, and that he values the difference it can make in a child’s life. Hurwitz pointed out that he had run for an open board seat in 2003 just after finishing college, and that at that time, he had been mentoring a student at Slauson Middle School named Cameron. What he saw Cameron go through, Hurwitz said, made him “concerned about the achievement gap.” Soon after that, Hurwitz noted, he became Cameron’s legal guardian, and “did everything [he] could to help [Cameron] go through the district.” After Cameron graduated, Hurwitz followed him to Chicago, beginning law school at Loyola while Cameron started classes at Northwestern. Hurwitz highlighted his interest in school law, and his work with a law firm that handled large desegregation cases. Finally, Hurwitz said that he had planned to run for the board in November, but “why not start now?”

Familiarity with AAPS

Question 2: “This position will require immediate attention to critical issues affecting the education of AAPS students. Please describe your familiarity with the AAPS and how did you gain this knowledge?” Candidates whose first response had already answered this question in whole or in part were asked to elaborate.

Haviland mentioned that she currently has three children in AAPS, is a member of their PTO, is a weekly classroom volunteer, and has been on two School Improvement Teams under two different principals. She also helped with the countywide millage campaign. Haviland described her current role as both working with beginning teachers and collaborating with English teachers on a book about culturally-responsive pedagogy – a book for teachers to help them deal with the achievement gap in their classrooms.

Corey stated that he is a product of AAPS, and feels blessed. He cited the great teachers, programs, and opportunities given to him by AAPS as the reasons why he’s stayed in touch, and why he began helping out with lacrosse right away as soon as he returned to Ann Arbor. In addition, Corey named art and music programs, as well as the alternative high school as benefits of being part of AAPS. Lastly, he noted that his family is still here.

Thomas declared that he was very fortunate to get his start in one of the elementary schools with an active and progressive PTO, and that he served on the PTO Council for five years, which was a great opportunity to work with AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts as well as local organizations. He considers it the responsibility of parents to take an active role in the schools, and gave the following example. A few years ago, Thomas said, there was a lot of controversy in the district regarding the Everyday Math program. Thomas said Roberts called him on his cell phone, which impressed him, and asked Thomas to make sure his opinions were data-driven. So Thomas did his own research and came up with a study that compared districts that use Everyday Math with districts that don’t, while controlling for socioeconomic status. Thomas said his results showed that the Everyday Math curriculum is really very effective, and he became an advocate for the program, which he contended, illustrates that he’s open-minded and willing to change his mind if he’s wrong.

Panitch described his familiarity with schools as “a work in progress,” and admitted that “through some of the questions asked of me during the last interview process, I know a lot more now than I did then.” He mentioned that before working on the millage campaign, he was wholly focused on deciding whether or not to come to Ann Arbor. He mentioned that he and his wife looked at test scores, and got a tour of Angell from Tom Yaeger, a fifth-grade teacher there who was very enthusiastic. Panitch said he has read everything he can on the district website, Education Week, and, including all comments.

Hurwitz argued that “it has to start with being a student, and coming up though AAPS.” He also mentioned the usefulness of having worked with Cameron, and of substitute teaching in the district for two-and-a-half years. As a sub, Hurwitz said, “I think I must have taught every subject.” The best thing about subbing, according to Hurwitz, was seeing how different all of the AAPS schools are and “fall[ing] in love with a little bit of what each one has to offer.” The schools, he said, really all are different, and reflect Ann Arbor society: “They all have different issues to deal with.” Hurwitz noted that when applying for the board, he called teachers, and found that “everyone has their own concerns. Everybody needs something. I feel like I have good grasp on those different needs that exist.”

Commitment to Diversity

Question 3: “Can you give us an example that demonstrates your personal commitment to diversity? You can draw this example from any area of your life and experience – work, home, volunteering, organizations, travel, childhood, etc.

Haviland asserted that diversity has been “the focus of her career.” As an educator, she explained, she has focused on culturally-responsive pedagogy. After growing up in Mississippi with a “racially diverse childhood,” Haviland began, she started teaching in the Mississippi Delta at a high-needs school with all African-American students. When she moved from Mississippi to Washington D.C., she said, she also worked in an urban district. Lastly, as an example of her commitment to diversity, Haviland cited her work with the program called “Teachers for Tomorrow,” which gives teachers particular training to work in urban areas, but tries to overcome the idea of “white teacher as hero coming in to save the day.”

Corey said it helped him to teach at an all-Jewish school as a non-Jewish teacher, and mentioned that in Los Angeles, private schools represent 25% of all students. Corey argued that AAPS students being able to interact with many different people was very valuable, and cited football players being in musicals, band, or art as examples of “the great value of AAPS.”

Thomas said he would give the same example as in his last interview with the board. That was his decision to start the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund to address the problems many minority students have with reading, and help bring a real joy to their reading. He described how his fund has started a program to introduce classic literature to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Pittsfield Elementary, because over 50% of students there are on the free or reduced-cost lunch program. Thomas mentioned that there has been interest from other schools as well. Dicken Elementary wants to start the same project, and Mitchell Elementary’s principal had been talking with Thomas about how to help K-1 students who are not exposed to a lot of reading in their homes. Lastly, he cited an after-school reading club staffed by volunteers, for which his fund will provide books for kids to take home.

Panitch said, “I think I answered this question poorly last time,” and said that he had never had any personal problems come up except for being a Jewish kid in a Christian neighborhood. He mentioned that he has always worked in very diverse workplaces, and argued that it’s easy to do because everyone has to pull their weight, saying “if you can’t, you don’t last very long.” Panitch said he’s always been able to get along with everyone, and that law school taught him the importance of listening in order to truly understand another person’s point of view.

Hurwitz began, “I think it would have to be my experiences with Cameron.” He described coaching various teams on which Cameron played, and the passion with which Cameron and his teammates brought to the games: “We lost four years in a row, and every time they would all go up to the top of Crisler and cry – not because they lost, but because it was over.” Unfortunately, Hurwitz said, Cameron was the only one of the group to go to college. Hurwitz also noted that, while in law school, he developed the belief that diversity was really important in schools. He pointed out that research shows that all kids benefit from learning in a diverse environment, and that people may take advantage of this in Ann Arbor. Hurwitz said, “You have to be able to relate to absolutely everybody.”

Candidates’ Opinions on the Budget Options

Question 4: “At this point you are familiar with the budget options being proposed for the district next year. On the cost side, are there areas that you would like to speak to this evening? What about on the revenue side?

Haviland responded that it is important to maintain the excellence of the schools, and to provide teachers with everything they need. She suggested investigating the creation of niche foci within the high schools, while acknowledging that a magnet school could exacerbate the achievement gap. Haviland said she is not sure what’s the right thing to do about privatization, and that she is impressed with how well the employee groups are representing themselves. Haviland described the process she would usually use to make decisions as beginning with gathering all the information, and talking to all the stakeholders. In terms of revenue, she argued for the importance of attracting local business or universities to partner with AAPS to provide additional revenue, as well as trying to tap into grant money. In closing, Haviland gave the example of the Detroit Public Schools reading corps, which has brought 600,000 hours of volunteer readers’ time to DPS. She said that giving people in the community a clear message of what they can do could be helpful.

Corey acknowledged that the board has “a really difficult decision” ahead about how to proceed, and said it had done “a nice job looking at a lot of options,” including considering cutting teachers, or privatizing. He mentioned that he had had a chance to speak in Washington D.C. about ways to use technology to decrease education costs. For example, Corey said, many books AAPS currently buys are fully available online. He asserted that students have high expectations when it comes to schools using technology.

Thomas began by thanking Roberts for doing a thoughtful and thorough job in preparing for and for running the community budget forums, and mentioned that he had the privilege of sitting at a table with trustee Glenn Nelson at the forum he attended. Thomas said that the district’s cost reduction proposals were aligned with what he had proposed in the last round of interviews, which he acknowledged that trustee Simone Lightfoot – who was not on the board at the time – had not heard. He expressed two concerns with the Schools of Choice option – one philosophical and one pragmatic. His philosophical concern, he said, is that “the whole School of Choice option is a zero-sum game – if we pick up students from another district, it hurts that district. You’ve just shuffled around students without adding one cent.” Thomas did say he was not opposed to the Schools of Choice option for schools that are unique, such as Roberto Clemente. The pragmatic problem, according to Thomas, is that “if you’re counting on increasing enrollment by 150 students, you’re really not going to know if you’ve accomplished that until count day – it makes it much more problematic to calculate in advance what you are actually going to gain by doing that.” In summary, Thomas stated, he was not categorically opposed to the Schools of Choice option, but argued that the district needs a Plan B in place if it doesn’t capture the number of students it hopes. [Editor's note: When these earlier candidate interviews took place, the AAPS board had not yet approved the Schools of Choice option. That approval occurred at their March 29 meeting.]

In contrast to Thomas, Panitch asserted that, “Schools of Choice seems very promising,” but said he didn’t really want to prejudge anything. Panitch mentioned that Brit Satchwell, president of the local teachers’ union, had said in something Panitch had read that there were ideas out there about which the public was completely unaware. This, Panitch argued, made him realize he has to “see the whole picture” before he can speak to too many specifics. He closed by saying that there are some great ideas that need to be discussed, but that they need to be reviewed in the context of all of the data.

Hurwitz was reluctant to be too specific, saying that he realized the perspective changed when you sit on the board. He did name privatization and teacher lay-offs as “really contentious issues,” and noted that teacher lay-offs were a concern of every teacher he spoke with. Hurwitz noted that teacher lay-offs are something he would “absolutely dread,” saying he knew that beginning teachers apply with 1,000 to 1,500 other applicants. As a board member, Hurwitz said, he would hope to explore every possible alternative for creating revenue “until we cannot do anything else.” He added, “With the pink slips, there is a danger of moral getting low.” Hurwitz contended that with his legal training, he “could get out and help people understand why decisions are being made.”

Greatest Asset of AAPS

Question 5: “What is the greatest asset of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and how can we best leverage it for continued success?

Haviland answered that AAPS teachers impress her, especially having a larger perspective of having worked with lots of teachers. She named Jeff Kass at Pioneer High as an example of the creativity shown by teachers in the district, and said that she “would be a voice that would harness creativity and capability of teachers.” She argued that AAPS “could easily develop niche foci at certain schools to attract additional students.”

Corey argued that “not all education fits in one box. AAPS does a tremendous job of trying to find a way to educate each student.” Given that not every student will go to college, he said, the diversity of programs within AAPS is a huge strength.

Thomas said it was “difficult to narrow,” but he settled on “the diversity and richness of the offerings, which would include the alternative schools – Clemente, Stone, Community, as well as Ann Arbor Open.” He argued that “the people in this community really want this idea of ‘one size fits all’ eliminated,” and lauded online classes as another way of reaching out to people. Thomas said he doesn’t want to see AAPS contract into basic education that tries to “shoehorn all students into one model” and argued that to leverage this asset, AAPS should employ the Schools of Choice option to bring students into Clemente and Stone.

Panitch named students as the most important resource, saying he was not happy with the answer he gave during his last interview, when he had cited teachers as the district’s greatest resource. Though teachers are important, Panitch said, “there is no question that students are the most important resource, which has to do with funding. We have to look at students as our most important asset.”

Hurwitz put forth “the children” as the district’s greatest asset, saying the district has wonderful teachers and administrators, but that he was “blown away” by the features of the children he met while subbing in the district. Hurwitz pointed out the language diversity of students at Angell, and called subbing there, as well as in a special needs class, “awakening experiences.” As a special education assistant substitute in particular, Hurwitz asserted, it was amazing to see how important even a sub assistant is to a child getting through every day.

Working Collaboratively and Supporting the Board’s Collective Vision

Question 6: “There may be times when you are not in the majority of a decision the board may make. Getting to that decision can also be a challenge. Speak to us about how you see yourself supporting a decision of the board with which you did not agree and how you see your role in the community speaking about that decision.

Haviland noted that she has been on preschool and PTO boards, and worked collaboratively on book projects. She described her decision-making process as being about gathering perspectives, and analyzing data, and gave the example of how her current employer, the University of Michigan, was thinking about changing its teacher preparation program, and how that was contentious. Haviland argued, “It’s really important that the board present a united front, or at least that everyone understands that every decision made was well-vetted and there was time for public commentary.” She said she wants to be part of a vibrant discussion, but would want to support a united front, and stated that she’s “not coming in with a big reform agenda, or a lot of complaints that [she] want[s] to be made public through this forum.”

Corey echoed this same line of reasoning, and connected it to students, saying that as long as the intentions of his fellow board members were pure and in the best interest of helping students, he would not have a problem supporting any decision.

Thomas said this is something he used to do all the time, and that in his work, it was not uncommon for a decision to be made which was not particularly what he would have liked. The key, he argued, is having “full and open discussion up until a decision is made,” then once it’s made, supporting the board’s decision as his own. Thomas also referenced again the level of incivility that, in his opinion, seems to have entered into discussions around schools, concluding: “People of goodwill can have difference of opinions.”

Panitch cited a “humorous story” stemming from the community budget forums. He described how there was a man at his table who wanted AAPS to cede from the whole state funding system. Panitch told his group that this cannot be done, thinking that, legally, AAPS only has the authority the state gives it. But, Panitch had to stand up to speak for the group, and so he presented his group’s idea, even though he did not support it at all. He mentioned that out of the corner of his eye, he saw trustee Glenn Nelson quickly working out a computation. When he returned to his seat, Nelson showed him the amount of money AAPS would have to come up with the support the idea. Panitch said, “If I could have done that, I would never have been in the position to have to float this idea to the whole community.”

Hurwitz said that being on the board would give him the perspective to have an opinion, but that board members cannot completely discount the opinions of others. He pointed out that as an attorney, sometimes you are asked to fight for things that at first you did not believe in. Also, in dealing with Cameron as an athlete, Hurwitz mentioned learning the importance of how to handle “volatile” situations, such as coaching decisions: “It’s hard to have a future relationship with a person if you don’t handle it well.”

Balancing Public Input with Public Service

Question 7: “As a board member, you serve the district community, as well as every subset of people who make up that community. You may receive everything from a gentle suggestion to direct pressure to vote a certain way on any given issue, and this can come from the media, your school PTO, community organizations, staff, your family and friends – pretty much from anywhere. How do you see balancing this input in your new role as a public servant?

Haviland said she had planned on asking the board that question at the end of her interview, as she would be new to the role of public representative. She asked, “How do you balance out all the perspectives that you’re hearing? Do you see yourselves as representing all constituencies?” In the classroom, she argued, it’s always important to try to tease out the perspectives of those people not speaking up – the marginalized students. Haviland described herself as the kind of person who seeks out alternative perspectives: “I would want to be sure we had the perspective of the kid in the back of the room with his head down, not just the kid in the front with her hand raised.”

Corey asserted, “That is probably my greatest strength.” By not being a teacher, and not having any students in the district, he argued, he is well-positioned to be objective in decision-making. His assertion that he was “not trying to join the board for fame or glory” was amusing to many board members, who agreed the job brings neither.

Thomas said he would represent all stakeholders, including students, teachers, other employees of AAPS, local businesses, and taxpayers: “I would certainly listen to all points of view, and make a point of seeking out divergent opinions.” He assured the board that he does not feel he would come to this job with the idea that he was beholden to any particular interest group, and that his intent would be to help AAPS provide the best schools it can, given the constraints that it has. Thomas closed with, “I’m not going to say that I’m not going to listen to some people more than others, but it’s based on their ability to present a coherent, logical argument, not their membership in a particular group.”

Similarly, Panitch said he did not view himself as coming from any particular section of the community other than perhaps concerned parents. He mentioned his previous experience as a public servant working for the city of Philadelphia, as well as for the IRS. He said that he would do a good job of listening to everyone, and that he’s “in a good position to handle that type of pressure just because of [his] professional experiences.”

Hurwitz asserted, “That’s exactly what you have to do – you have to balance it.”He mentioned that he has tried to figure out what everybody’s issues are in the district, and that everyone with whom he’s spoken was really emotional. Also, noting that parents are always passionate about getting their kids’ needs met, Hurwitz acknowledged that being on the board would cause people to ask him for help. But, he conceded, “if everyone’s asking you to do … things, you have to be able to do what you feel the district needs you to do.” Hurwitz again noted that he was exposed to many different perspectives while working as a sub for the district, and said that would be helpful in making decisions.

Time Commitment of Serving on the Board

Question 8: “As a board member, you will be expected to attend all regular meetings, study sessions, and your assigned committee meetings. Your attendance is crucial to completing board business in a timely fashion. We will also want you to attend some additional board member development sessions over the next few months. Do you have any questions or concerns about these expectations?

Haviland mentioned that she did not apply earlier because she had certain commitments, but that those are tapering off. She said the more she can be in schools and be part of these conversations, the better it is for the beginning teachers with whom she works. Haviland also argued that it’s important for teachers, administrators, and kids to know that the board is not making decisions in a vacuum.

Corey said he has been watching a lot of board meetings on local television. [Meetings are broadcast on Community Television Network (CTN).] He said he worked early in the morning, and helped with lacrosse in the afternoon. He said he would be naive to think he knows everything already, and would look forward to learning more.

Thomas said he considered the time commitment very carefully, and had discussed it with his son. As a single parent, he said, he does have some issues with child care, and backup, but said that his son is old enough now to spend some time alone or at a friend’s house. The other side of the coin, he pointed out, is that he is now retired, so he has a lot of time during the day that he can spend on school board issues.

Panitch said he had been watching the board, and noting the time commitment of its members, and had no concerns. “I’m probably seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “but I’m coming in with my eyes open.” Panitch also mentioned that he would welcome the professional development aspect of a board position.

Hurwitz noted that he has no concerns about the expectations on his time, but “that’s probably very foolish of me to think that.” He mentioned that when he began parenting Cameron, he met a lot of criticism, and that parenting Cameron and being in law school was a concern. Hurwitz noted that the most difficult part of his first year of law school was getting Cameron through his first year of college, and how he had hoped there would be more academic support for transitioning freshmen. Having felt like he succeeded at something difficult, Hurwitz said, he hoped that being on the board would be like that. He noted he has every reason to be afraid of it, but is not.

Questions for the Board

At the conclusion of each interview, each candidate was asked if he or she had any questions for the board. For an in-depth look at the questions posed to the board trustees during the candidate interviews in March, see previous Chronicle coverage of those interviews: “AAPS Board Interiews Go Back and Forth.

During Thursday’s study session, Hurwitz asked how the transition to serving on the board has been for the recently appointed members. Christine Stead answered that it was better than she expected.  She noted that each board member has been very available, and that she believed the board has gelled into a good team in a short time. Simone Lightfoot agreed, saying, “It’s better than you can imagine … if you’re willing to immerse yourself in the learning.” She suggested reading up on best practices in education, and “loving the kids.”

Deb Mexicotte reminded Hurwitz that “we are public servants,” and that he was welcome to contact them if he thought of other questions after leaving.

Candidate Presentations

At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Mexicotte thanked Hurwitz for coming, and reminded him of the candidate presentations scheduled for Wednesday, May 12 as part of the next regular board meeting. She then said that the presentations would occur as early as possible in the meeting, but noted that “public obligations come first,” and that the board tries to be respectful of people’s time when planning the agenda.

The presentations, Mexicotte continued, should be no longer than five minutes. She mentioned that candidates would be receiving an email detailing the presentation topic for which they are to prepare, but that the “idea is to tell us a little about yourself, and what inspired you to want to be on the board of education.”

Glenn Nelson added that the board will vote directly after the candidate presentations, and that the new trustee will be immediately seated, sworn-in, and given full voting power for the rest of the meeting’s agenda. “So,” Nelson suggested, “you might want to glance over the agenda [for Wednesday’s meeting] before the board selection.”

Minutes Approval Delayed

After the other trustees had also thanked Hurwitz for coming, Mexicotte walked him out. The only other business before adjournment was the review of minutes from the board study session on April 27. Mexicotte suggested to the trustees that they take the minutes home for review, and note if any changes should be made. Nelson, who as board secretary had taken minutes that evening as well as at the April 27 study session, pointed out that the minutes could be amended if necessary.

Present: president Deb Mexicotte, vice president Irene Patalan, secretary Glenn Nelson, treasurer Christine Stead, and trustees Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot.

Absent: AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts, a non-voting member.

The next regular meeting of the board will be held on Wednesday, May 12, 2010, at 7 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library 4th floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 0
Library Lot Math: 6 – 2 + 2 = 6 Sat, 09 Jan 2010 15:09:23 +0000 Dave Askins At its Friday morning meeting, the committee responsible for evaluating development proposals for the Library Lot agreed to reconsider two of the proposals previously rejected.

Samm Offen Jayne Miller

Sam Offen reads a section of the Library Lot RFP that he interpreted to mean that financial considerations should come later in the process. At right is Jayne Miller, community services area administrator. (Photos by the writer.)

The suggestion for reconsideration had been brought to the committee by two of its members, Margie Teall and Stephen Rapundalo, who also serve on the city council.  Monday’s city council meeting had included conversation about the issue.

The committee will now re-include in the interview process the two proposals it had eliminated at its December meeting. Representatives for all six proposals to develop the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure will be interviewed in a little less than two weeks. On Jan. 19, the two that had been dropped previously – proposals that call for predominantly open space in that area – will be interviewed, followed on Jan. 20 by interviews of the other four proposers.

Related to this process, at its Wednesday meeting the Downtown Development Authority had approved up to $50,000 for a consultant to assist with the review of proposals. So on Friday, the committee was also briefed on the request for qualifications (RFQ) for the consultant, which has now been released – and no candidates with operations in Washtenaw County will be considered.

Re-integration of Two Proposals

By way of background, on Aug. 14, 2009, the city of Ann Arbor issued an RFP for the development of the city-owned Library Lot – above the underground parking garage currently under construction, and directly to the north of the downtown library. At last Wednesday’s Downtown Development Authority board meeting, chair John Splitt reported that beginning the week of Jan. 25, 2010,  people could expect to see “the big drill” – marking the commencement of earth retention work

Timeline Overview of RFP

A timeline overview of events related to the Library Lot RFP,  including Friday’s meeting:

  • Aug. 14, 2009: RFP issued.
  • Sept. 25, 2009: Pre-proposal meeting, mandatory for anyone who wanted to submit a proposal.
  • Nov. 13, 2009: 2 p.m. EDT RFP response deadline; six proposals submitted before deadline; one proposal misses deadline.
  • Dec. 4, 2009: RFP review committee meets, handles organizational and scheduling matters.
  • Dec. 18, 2009: RFP review committee meets after initial review of proposals, drops two: Ann Arbor Town Square and Ann Arbor Community Commons. [Chronicle coverage: "Two Library Lot Proposals Eliminated"]
  • Jan. 4, 2010: Ann Arbor city council contemplates but rejects a resolution asking for information from dropped proposals; council representatives to RFP review committee (Teall and Rapundalo) agree to bring suggestion to RFP review committee for reconsideration of dropped proposals. [Chronicle coverage: "Mixed Message from Council on Library Lot"]
  • Jan. 8, 2010: RFP review committee meets, agrees to re-integrate dropped proposals into interview process scheduled for week of Jan. 18.

Committee Deliberations on Re-Integrating Proposals

At Friday’s meeting, the first order of business introduced by Stephen Rapundalo, who chairs the RFP review committee, was the question of whether to reconsider the two previously dropped proposals.

Rapundalo summarized the rationale behind the failed city council resolution that had been brought forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) by saying that it was Briere’s intent that councilmembers have adequate information to compare all proposals.

Miller Fraser Rapundalo

Jayne Miller, Roger Fraser and Stephen Rapundalo tried briefly to connect by speaker phone to Eric Mahler, who was on his way to the meeting, but the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful.

Rapundalo told the committee that those on council who opposed the resolution cited their sense that the information requested – on the proposal’s financials – had already been asked for in the RFP. In addition, he said, there was some sentiment on council that the resolution would undermine the RFP process.

Nevertheless, said Rapundalo, based on conversations he’d had with mayor John Hieftje and his city council and RFP committee colleague, Margie Teall, he was bringing the committee the suggestion that the two dropped proposals be re-integrated into the interview process.

Committee member Sam Offen responded to Rapundalo by saying that he’d read about the city council meeting and re-read the RFP to see if the committee had done something different from what had been set forth in the RFP. He pointed to a paragraph on page 10, which he took to mean that the committee should first consider the proposals based on their merits other than their acquisition costs. Offen concluded that a reasonable argument could be made that it was premature to exclude a proposal on a financial basis, and that it was worthwhile to reconsider the two dropped proposals.

The paragraph cited by Offen reads as follows:

The selection committee will initially evaluate responses to the RFP to decide which submitters, if any, it will interview. For the initial evaluation, the committee will not consider acquisition cost proposals. For this reason, the acquisition cost proposal must be separately submitted in a sealed and marked envelope. Before the interviews, the acquisition cost proposals of the submitters to be interviewed will be opened and reviewed.

City administrator Roger Fraser clarified that what they’d been thinking about with that paragraph were proposals to purchase the property – to make it clear that the city was not soliciting offers of speculative development.

John Splitt, who’s chair of the DDA board and serving on the RFP board along with DDA executive director Susan Pollay, said he was not in favor of reconsidering the proposals. Neither showed any possibility of financial return to the city, he said.

Splitt asked for examples of revenue-generating parks in Ann Arbor. Offen, who serves on the city’s park advisory commission, and Jayne Miller, who is community services area administrator, had a working knowledge of Ann Arbor’s parks financials sufficient to answer Splitt’s question. The canoe liveries, said Offen, have revenues greater than expenses. Miller allowed that was true, but noted that because the parks are supported from the general fund, there is a certain amount of overhead that is subsidized for any of the parks.

Miller gave the Ann Arbor Farmers Market as the one example of a park that was revenue positive for the city.

Margie Teall said she agreed with Splitt, but that it was not asking too much of the committee to ask questions that had not yet been asked of the proposers. She also acknowledged that arguments could be made about a financial return to the city based on economic development.

Susan Pollay put the dropping of the two proposals in the context of a winnowing down of more proposals – even without the aid of a consultant. She inquired about the proposal by Jarratt Architecture, as one that might also have been dropped from consideration – it contained descriptions of what Jarratt would try to do, as opposed to what they were going to do. In the Jarratt Architecture proposal, she said, “there’s not a lot of stuff.”

Rapundalo allowed that there was a real question of which proposals had enough substance to merit further consideration. He reported that Eric Mahler (who had not yet arrived at the meeting) had been prepared to cut the Jarratt proposal as well.

Splitt also described the process as one where there would be further eliminations – two didn’t make the first cut, others would not make the next cut, he said.

Much later in the meeting, Eric Mahler arrived and echoed similar sentiments to Splitt’s – he was against reconsidering the proposals they had already dropped. [Mahler also serves on the city's planning commission.] Mahler enumerated the reasons he was against reconsideration, which were based on the substance of the two proposals – they envision the Library Lot as predominantly open space.

Eric Mahler

Eric Mahler, foreground, arrived towards the end of the meeting and spoke against reconsidering the two Library Lot proposals that were previously eliminated.

First, Mahler said, he had concerns about spreading resources too thin with respect to security in an additional park. Second, to be successful, he cautioned, any urban park had to be especially well thought out with respect to planning, security, maintenance, and building. Finally, he did not think that the two proposals met the criterion that they be at least revenue neutral.

For his part, Rapundalo said that one of the “occupational hazards” of being a scientist with 30 years of experience doing peer review was being accustomed to following processes with rules – to him, reconsideration offered up a second chance to proposers already eliminated. [Rapundalo was a Ph.D. research scientist with Pfizer before taking over as head of MichBio].

The question of the proposal that came in late would be briefly raised by Teall, but missing the deadline was seen as an objective criterion – “a deadline not subject to interpretation,” said Splitt.

Despite his opposition, Rapundalo said, out of respect for his council colleagues and the fact that it represented only three additional hours of interviewing time [90 minutes for each], he was willing to go along with reconsideration of the two dropped proposals. Teall also noted that they were only talking about a total of six proposals – not, say, 22 of them.

While Mahler and Splitt both expressed their opposition to reconsideration of the proposal, they both indicated that they were willing to see the proposals included in the interview phase. Mahler stressed that he would go into the interview process with an open mind to the two proposals that were being re-included.

Rapundalo concurred with Mahler that it was important for the proposals to rise and fall on their merits.

The Interviews

Much of the committee meeting dealt with the logistics of the interview process, which will take place on Jan. 19-20.

Interviews: Where?

Jayne Miller reported that she’d confirmed the space availability of the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, at 343 South Fifth Ave., for the interviews on Jan. 20 and that she’d be able to hold a partial day for Jan. 19 in the event that the two dropped proposals were reconsidered. That prompted Rapundalo to remark: “That’s thinking ahead.”

Interviewers: Who?

Rapundalo said he’d invited Josie Parker, the director of the library, as well as Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, to take part in interviewing the proposers, though they would not participate in committee deliberations.

For each proposer, the interview process will include a 30-minute presentation, 30 minutes of questions and answers by the committee, concluding with 30 minutes of questions and answers by the public. The public’s questions, Rapundalo said, would be taken on cards, in order to squeeze in as many as possible.

On the evening of Jan. 20, following the interviews, there will be an open house – proposers will each have a table where they can have their material set up, with people able to circulate among the tables.

Jayne Miller said she’d draft a form that could be used by open house attendees to record feedback to the committee.

Interview Questions?

While the public’s questions will be submitted on written cards, the committee’s questions will be sent in advance to proposers. That was a decision for which there was not complete consensus at the start of the committee discussion.

Rapundalo said he was inclined to provide the questions in advance. Sam Offen wondered if a proposer could then use the first 30 minutes, allocated for their presentation, to answer the questions. Remarked Rapundalo in response to Offen, “They will, if they’re smart!”

Splitt Miller Offen

Jayne Miller distributes handouts to John Splitt at the start of the meeting. Seated to Splitt's left is Sam Offen. Seated to his right, out of camera range, is the owner of the red and black hat.

City administrator Roger Fraser wondered if it was really desirable to “tip your hand” about the questions. For example, he said, if there was a question about how the proposal fit into the overall context of the area, then something a proposer had not thought to make a priority could suddenly be come a “priority.”

The committee settled on sending the questions to proposers in advance of the interviews. One consideration in that decision was the observation by Splitt that one of the proposal teams was in the room, even as the committee was discussing the draft of some of the questions – Alice Ralph and Alan Haber of Ann Arbor Community Commons have been attending these committee meetings.

Committee members gave Jayne Miller feedback on the question set that she’d drafted. Susan Pollay suggested in general that the tenor of the questions needed to demand concrete responses – she drew the contrast between, “What are you willing to do?” and “What will you do?” A question about financing, Pollay said, should ask specifically which banks the proposer had worked with in the past.

Rapundalo urged that some of the questions cut across all proposers to ensure some basis of comparing “apples to apples.” Teall wondered why LEED Silver was a part of one question instead of LEED Gold. At that, Fraser and Miller suggested that they could as well ask about LEED Platinum.

Committee members will now send Rapundalo specific suggestions on Miller’s draft, he’ll collate them, and forward them to Miller, who will take another stab at the question set.

After the Interviews and Open House

Besides the interview questions, Miller will be refining the draft of a form for each proposal that committee members can use for implementing the scoring metric outlined in the RFP. [Link to city website with RFP and .pdf files of all six proposals.]

Fraser stressed that the idea in applying the scoring metric was not to use information from only one step in the process. The metric should be applied, he said, based on the response to the RFP, the responses to follow-up questions the committee had asked for, plus the interviews.

The RFP review committee will meet the day after the interviews conclude, on Jan. 21 from 6-9 p.m. to analyze the information collected to date and to discuss their next steps.

RFQ for Consultant

At the Downtown Development Authority’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday, up to $50,000 was approved to fund a consultant to help evaluate the Library Lot proposals. [Chronicle coverage: "DDA Ponies Up: Parking, Pipes, Planning"]

At Friday’s RFP committee meeting, Miller and Fraser indicated that the request for qualifications for a consultant had been posted on BidNet and sent to the International Downtown Association.

At the DDA’s Wednesday board meeting, DDA board member Gary Boren had said that the consultant who would be hired would have “no skin in the game.”

One of the criteria in the request would exclude local consultants:

The City of Ann Arbor must avoid any perception of influence or conflict on the part of its consultant. Therefore, the city will only consider submittals from professionals that have no operations based within Washtenaw County, and where these professionals have no financial ties or any other potential conflict of interest with any member of any project team who has submitted an RFP to the City for its Library Lot project.

Responses from potential consultants are due Jan. 13, 2010 at 2 p.m.

]]> 3
AATA, CEO Candidate Start Talks Fri, 24 Apr 2009 17:58:01 +0000 Dave Askins AATA Board meeting (April 22, 2009): In their deliberations Wednesday evening, the AATA board assessed CEO candidate Michael Ford’s interview responses as “mushy” and not as “crisp” as they’d ideally prefer, with board chair David Nacht describing Ford’s communicative style as “modern management parlance.”

word cloud of Michael Ford's interview

Word cloud based on interview questions and answers from Michael Ford’s third interview. The cloud was generated by (Image links to higher resolution file.)

So often was the word “crisp” invoked that Thomas Partridge, who spoke at the conclusion of the meeting during public commentary, gave one of his standard talking points a little extra flourish: He asked the board to articulate a vision for expanded countywide service “in the same crisp language” that they expected from their next CEO.

In fact, it appears that the next CEO of the AATA will be Michael Ford. The board looked past a lack of crispness in his interview answers and voted unanimously to make him an offer and enter into negotiations. Assuming the two sides can reach an agreement, Ford might be able to take over the reigns of the AATA relatively quickly. Ford operates his own consulting firm, MG Ford Consulting, and there would be no coordination with a current employer to consider.

In other business, the board (i) heard a report from their auditor (who was roundly lambasted by board chair Nacht), (ii) got an update from their own financial staff (AATA is on course to keep its current year’s budget balanced), (iii) passed a resolution to charge the full cost of service for its purchase-of-service (POS) contracts, thus increasing the cost to municipalities like Ypsilanti by roughly 30% by 2012, and (iv) gave support only in concept for Ann Arbor’s Transportation Plan Update.

people sitting around a table with job candidate in the middle

Left to right: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Michael Ford, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba, Rich Robben. Sue McCormick could not attend due to illness.

Michael Ford’s Third Interview for CEO of the AATA

What follows is not a syllable-for-syllable rendering of Michael Ford’s interview on Wednesday, April 22, conducted in public in the AATA board room. We have not included talk from board chair David Nacht that managed the turn-taking during the interview. In places where the quality of the audio recording was too poor, we have indicated this with “[...]“. Otherwise, however, it’s verbatim. A sequence of three dots at the end of a speaking turn following by the same sequence at the beginning of the next turn indicates a natural conversational yielding of turns.

Ted Annis: I’m kind of a financial guy so I wanted to talk to you a little bit about some other things. But what I need you to do – and maybe it would be beneficial if you do this for everybody here – run me through the last couple of years of what you have been doing. You were at this one agency, okay, and then you left that agency and started your own LLC and returned there as a consultant? Do I have that …

Michael Ford: … no.

Ted Annis: Okay, help me out with that.

Michael Ford: How far do you want me to go back?

Ted Annis: Let’s just go back three years or so.

Michael Ford: Okay, I was at TriMet for almost 6 years there. And I was in charge of all the transportation operations – rail, bus, scheduling, field operations, and training as well. [...] I commanded about 1,500 folks, and had a budget of about $125 million. And the responsibility was managing all transportation services there. I was promoted to work with the general manager in my last year there, and I was his assistant. And I would do work for him – around efficiencies looking at how we could cut costs. I was in charge of a top-down review of all of the operational and organizational efforts to reduce costs – from finance, to looking at marketing, to looking at facilities and building of new facilities and stuff like that. I had an offer – I was kind of wooed away by San Joaquin to come down and help them in their operation. They needed some help, I knew the person who was the general manager [...] over 10 years ago. So I did leave TriMet to go down there and help them out. So I was the chief operating officer down there. What happened there is we had some financial problems and there were some layoffs. I was affected by that, because I was new to the organization. There were six of us that were laid off as a result. Came back to Camas, where I am currently living. I already had a business on the side that I expanded and created MG Ford Consulting. And I have been doing consulting since that time.

Ted Annis: Now I have just one more question and it’s a real snotty one.

Michael Ford: Okay!

Ted Annis: Are you ready for a snotty question?

Michael Ford: Sure.

Ted Annis: Okay. Actually, before the last time you interviewed I asked staff here to get some data on TriMet – some operating efficiency data. TriMet had quite a jump in its operating costs from 2004 to 2005 to 2006, if I read this correctly. And it looked like it got slowed up a lot – if I am reading this correctly – in 2007, it looks like the upward cost increases tapered off. Do I have this right?

Michael Ford: Are you talking about cost per hour?

Ted Annis: Yeah, the operating costs per bus service hour.

Michael Ford: We may have had some slight increases. There were some issues with work productivity, in terms of attendance. We had some issues with the  build-out of additional services. We actually had made some cuts there, too. Service hours were redefined, our service criteria changed, and we were  able actually to create some efficiencies. In fact every year that I was in that department, we cut probably about $1.5 to $2 million a year in overall costs, because the lion’s share of the organization – the cost is out of the operations and maintenance unit. So we were pretty diligent in a tight market. Our sales tax revenues weren’t coming in as much and we had to make some shifts. So I would have to see the numbers that you are really referring to, just to make sure that I am clear. The last statistics I have – and in fact I have the March report … [Annis hands a sheet across the table.]

Ted Annis: … you see where it goes from 89 to…

Michael Ford: … I’m showing on my latest report from TriMet in March that it’s about $98 an hour.

Ted Annis: That’s where you’re at right now?

Michael Ford: Yes.

Ted Annis: So (that) represents a reduction?

Michael Ford: Yes, that’s a reduction. I’m not sure where this comes from. Nancy Jarigese does the report, and I am still in contact with her, and I get information from her and there have been some reductions. Now that also includes field operations, cost of operator, cost of maintenance, so there’s a lot of other things built into that cost.

Ted Annis: Okay.

Jesse Bernstein: What are your impressions of this organization, based on the interviews that you’ve had so far?

Michael Ford: I think it’s – there’s a lot going on. I had a chance to look at the 2010 plan and also the recent plan – I believe it’s the Ann Arbor Master Transportation Plan. And I see that there is a lot of opportunity for growth, and a lot of opportunity to make a difference. I’m impressed with that – the forward thinking, trying to get things moving forward. Now, I’m not sure what the results are from the 2010 plan, which I believe was conducted in 1998, but there’s a lot of good solid information in that plan that I think is important to follow up on. So what I see right now is an organization that is willing to grow, be more regional, incorporate a lot of green technology and opportunity. I see the need to separate transportation in a way that is necessary because you can only go through so many areas because of congestion and everything else, and so separating the grade. I see a lot of opportunity to help expand on the future of the organization and make it more of a regional player. And that’s an exciting thing, it’s very exciting. In Portland when I was going to school, there I saw construction and everything going on. And I came from probably one of the premier systems in the country, and I can see the evolution of how things work. And to be a part of something like that would be exciting.

Paul Ajebga: Michael, I only have one question. If you are the executive director of the organization, and you get interference from the board regarding the personnel structure, and you’ve been asked to reorganize, and it’s not consistent with the way you would like to run the organization, how do you handle that?

Michael Ford: [...] The issue for me is: Is the alignment helpful in reaching the objectives, the mission, and the goals of the organization? Because I think that’s the backdrop that I would be looking at to help guide me, to make sure that we’re going in the right direction. So I would want to make sure – you  say that the board is asking for a reorganization?

Paul Ajebga: If the board is asking for personnel changes that you don’t believe are consistent with the way you would like to run the organization, how would you reconcile the differences?

Michael Ford: Well, I would have to understand what the concerns are, what the deficiencies are, and what is being looked at as a concern. You know, I am obviously open, but I also want to make sure that things are working and are aligned and make sense. I don’t have to win every major battle, but I think in keeping our eyes focused on a bigger prize – is this going to help us get where we want to go – that would be probably  the most important thing to me.

Paul Ajebga: Do you think that the board has the authority to …

Michael Ford: … I think your role  is really policy, and I should be running the organization. So I want to make that distinction. If I’m entrusted with that responsibility, then for me that would be important for me to exercise that. It would be a key component for me to feel that I can do the job that I need to do. Short of that, there’s going to be maybe some concerns that I would have. Because I have to work with the board, and I’ve got to be allowed to manage and to make sure that the responsibilities of the organization are being handled. Definitely I’d be wanting to have some discussion about that. But I’m very clear about what my role should be in that.

Rich Robben: I have a lot of interest in the relationship [...] three business processes. One of them is goal setting, the other is aligning organizational priorities with those goals, and the third is tracking performance to make sure that things stay in alignment. Can you talk a little bit about your experience and background, how you have handled that relationship among these things?

Michael Ford: I also think it’s important to really have a vision and clarity to impart and discuss, because people are working, I think they want to feel valued, and they want to know how they fit into the bigger picture. So I think that’s a matter of having a clear vision and understanding. I think the goals are important to help get you there, and to make sure that people really understand. But not just to tell them, but to show how their job and their function is aligned with the kind of objectives that you’re trying to get to. I’ve had a lot of involvement actually in doing that – meeting and talking and looking at the job itself and making sure that those are in alignment. Are they the jobs that are going to create the  movement that you need to get the objective done? So I think that alignment is very, very important. In my experience with (that) has been kind of revolutionary in terms of at TriMet, I had a lot of folks who had been there a number of years, they got into positions, but maybe they got into them for the wrong reasons or they were just promoted [...] And so we built the whole process of educating and training and getting the gaps identified and trying to address those gaps. And some people who moved around succeeded, and some people just had to find work at other places, because this was the direction we needed to go. But everybody has a role in contributing to that. I’m big on the vision, I’m big on telling people what their role and responsibility is and how they can contribute to that. [...] I’ve had experience in community transit doing that with staff. In fact there were retreats where we talked about that. We’d align the vision, the goal, and the mission that the board has set. And we talked about how we can meet these and what are our timelines. And we would chart these things, and progress reports, and make sure that we were all on the right page. So it made for a healthy environment where people find meaning in their work. And created a synergy that we were all in this together, going this direction.

Ted Annis: Another snotty question. If the treasurer [...] wants some data to take a look at – some financial data – and picks up the phone or sends an e-mail to the head of the accounting department, would you have a problem with that? Or how would you like to have that handled, if a board member wants some data? I got a little concrete with that example, but it’s a perfectly reasonable and common request.

Michael Ford: Given that there’s information that needs to be out there a lot, I would prefer it to go through me. Because I need to know what’s going on and what your needs are as board members. So to me for that information to flow through me or have some awareness of that would be very important. You know, I understand that that person could probably get you what you want. But without my knowledge or my involvement, then I think there’s problems that could exist. So I would prefer that the board members would go through me in order to collect that data. And I could provide you with what you wanted to make sure that I understood exactly what you were needing and the method in which you needed it, and how you would like to see it in the future.

Ted Annis: Okay. Would it be acceptable – the next part of the snotty question – would it be acceptable for, in this case Paul, to send an e-mail to the head of the accounting department, but CC you, would that work for you?

Michael Ford: Yeah, I’d rather have it come through me. You know, I just think it would be cleaner and make more sense and given the responsibility and role that I have in the organization. But I could be open to a CC or something, but I think generally speaking my preference would be that the information come through me.

Ted Annis: I’ve got one more question, not related to finances. The idea has percolated – I’ve talked about this with some of the other board members – but this organization is growing. Right now there are two distinct operating modes in this organization. One is a fixed route bus service and the other is what would generally be described as on-demand service. The on-demand service – I’m just doing this quickly off the top of my head – has a revenue component of a little over around $5 million a year. And I believe that the fixed route bus service is $16 million a year or something like that – just to give you a sense of the proportion. Now we’re talking about doing something with rail, okay? The thinking which has been percolating in my head is maybe we should have the organization have three operating departments – perhaps a rail operating department, and on-demand operating department, and a fixed route bus service operating department. This is just thinking, that’s all it is. It’s pretty logical thinking and it’s a pretty logical thing to express. But I would like your opinion of that.

Michael Ford: It’s interesting that you mention that, because where I came from we had separate divisions, and one of my jobs was to integrate them. Because of the complexity of the operation, if your rail system went down you need to create a bus bridge to accommodate those people. So you kind of interlink them in a lot of ways, and I think that I found that worked better, because the issue is providing service to the people. You don’t want to lose sight of that. When you talk about separate divisions, people will work in this category or they will work in that category, but when things need to be coordinated I still think that there is a need for that synergy and that understanding. And sometimes cross-training among different concentrations is also important, because you get a better understanding of the operation itself. So my thinking would be that I still think you might have some alignment areas, but in terms of the service delivery, some coordination efforts, I think, are essential for providing the public with the service that we want to provide to an optimum level of completion.

Ted Annis: Did you eliminate the three separate department idea, or did you just force them to talk to one another?

Michael Ford: We didn’t necessarily eliminate them – everybody had their own concentration, but the notion of integration was a permanent association. In fact we had people who could play dual roles. And they could go back and forth, because they’re not thinking in solely one concentration. They’re looking at the bigger picture. The other alignment issue – your green line train is down and you’re only thinking about that train, and you’re not thinking about those people getting addressed, so you have to have the wherewithal and understanding that, Hey, I’ve got to get some buses up here, I’ve got to get some drivers, I got to get some coordination, I got to get some supervisors that need to be present and involved in this stuff. So those are the things that I think will help. And as you look at the vision in going forward and talk about integration at least when I was at TriMet, we could no longer work in silos and in order to be a productive organization and one that was really addressing the needs of the people, we had to have synergy and work together.

Ted Annis: Okay, so if I looked at the TriMet organization chart, I would not see a manager of this, and a manager of that, listing …

Michael Ford: … you would see a manager of control. And control would have cross, dual purposes for bus and for rail.

Ted Annis: That’s what I’m after, I understand.

Michael Ford: It would be in there, because what you had was a segmentation and that was not really serving the need, because this person over here with the resources might be able to help you, and if you’re not talking and you don’t have the wherewithal and understanding or haven’t invested in that training, then there’s missed opportunities.

Ted Annis: I understand.

Charles Griffith: I don’t remember talking terribly much last time about your experience with boards. And also my question kind of gets at the issue of organizational change. Now we are talking about various ways to expand our organization and our services here. Some of our directions might point us toward reconstituting our board and creating a larger board with other jurisdictions represented. That creates a lot of potential for a lot of upheaval and change in the organization. I would just like to get your take on what that might mean for you in this role and what your experiences are with boards that might help you deal with that.

Michael Ford: I have served on a number of boards [...] Your question is a really good one, because as you expand, this expansion is not going to be done just by AATA. You’ve got to incorporate partners and other municipalities who have a vested interest in seeing this whole region do well. When you’re talking about funding, money, support, leveraging relationships, you have to be more inclusive of others to make that happen. And they are going to come with their issues and their concerns. And I think that’s a relevant and necessary part of that. So as far as the expansion of the board, that could be a possibility given some of the trade-offs that may need to be made in terms of getting where you need to go in terms of financing or money and all of that. I don’t know all of the components to make that declaration here, but I think as you look to be more regionally focused, you’re going to have [...] people who have legitimate issues that affect their service, and they’re going to want to have a voice. I don’t know if that means a board appointment or not, but my experience is that people, no matter what, have a vested interest, whether that’s the public, whether that’s constituents, and you have to give rise to that. But you also have to show that the system that you’re running is running efficiently and effectively and is meeting the needs of the people. In building that trust, in building that capital so that people will see that you are trying to do the best that you can and you may need more funding or more support in order to get where you want to go.

Charles Griffith: I think I’m also trying to get at the question of your interaction with the board itself and so maybe more specifically at San Joaquin or TriMet, what kind of interactions would you have with the boards? I mean, you weren’t serving as the CEO, so I’m not expecting you to have the same kind of picture as if you were serving. But how do you see the functioning of a board of a transit organization in this role now as sort of playing a more key role in trying to bring that board together and potentially expanding it?

Michael Ford: I’ve had a lot of board exposure in my career, particularly at community transit and at San Joaquin to some extent. And just committee work. Working on radio frequency – we were trying to build a new radio tower, not just now but 20 years from now. There’s a big issue about frequencies between police and fire and political issues because transit was not at the table and we still have a vested interest in communication to our operators and all of that. I had board members that I worked with extensively on these type of issues to get their support and understanding and leveraging their political capital to help us get what we need.  So it was constant feedback and communication, having these discussions at committee meetings. Wetland mitigation, I had facility responsibility, and we had issues with environmental issues and board members, some board members were engineers and so we had a close association with dealing with those type of issues. And what I built was capital and trust, and what I was doing was providing good information, great options and the board felt comfortable as a whole that the work that was done in committee could be moved forward, because of the quality of work that was done. Emergency procedures, different jurisdictions had their own emergency protocols or response, and there was a lot of duplication in a lot of areas. And transportation wasn’t at the table. So bringing transportation, and not duplicating other emergency processes along the lines was another focal point. So working with elected officials, working with board members, along with making presentations, going to retreats and strategizing about the organization and where it was going. We even did the Berkman so we all knew each other’s ways of thinking and preferences and all of that. So I have been around that environment quite a bit. So for me to be involved in a board at this level now, I think it’s something that is in alignment with what I’ve done and what I’m used to and I feel very comfortable with it.

Jesse Bernstein: Michael, can you give us some ideas of how you would go about as leader of the staff determining what the future should be in terms of mode of transit? We are looking to expand, we’re looking at rail. How would you structure that process? What would you look at, what would you want staff to do so that we make the best decision over the long term? I guess I’m asking for both specific behaviors and specific measurements that you think are important in making that decision about what mode we move into in the future.

Michael Ford: There’s a lot there to that. I think that the 2010 plan was a baseline look at that, because a lot of work was done doing research and getting stakeholders involved, getting friends and foes of the organization to plan what’s going on. From an internal standpoint [...] what I think I would want to do is bring staff together and vet through the issues as we know them. But what I would want to do is maybe use the 2010 study to look forward. Where did that leave off? Is there a follow-up to that? Is there something more around that? I also think the Ann Arbor Transportation Plan would be another integrated piece to want to look at. So those two documents, maybe taking some time to look through that, where we’ve been, where we’ve come from, and also sitting down with staff and identifying some of the challenges and some of the issues that they have encountered. Who are our allies and who are some people who may have some issues with transportation thinking?  [...] I mean one of the things that is really critical right now is funding for what we want to get to. And I’m finding that’s not going to be done in a vacuum. So I would probably start off with those documents and working with staff and kind of collectively looking at where we are based on that information as a starting point.

Jesse Bernstein: Let me be a little more specific. Let’s say there’s a route and the question was what mode do we use on that route? How would you go about making that determination?

Michael Ford: Well, I would look at the need. I would look at the number of people riding that system. Is it fitting? Do we need a 30-foot bus versus a 25-foot bus? I would look at the geographic makeup. Can we attract more people to the system, based on the type of service that we are providing? So it’s kind of knowing those integral parts of that different area. So some study, some surveying, what our customers want, I think some listening and what can we provide it makes sense and that is going to move people. So it’s a lot of communication and work with the outlying area.

David Nacht: Suppose you started June 1. What could you tell this board by September? What would you expect to accomplish over the summer and what could  we expect – if you spent the summer learning the organization and thinking things through – what could we expect from you in September if you started June 1?

Michael Ford: Well, I think a better understanding of the organization, getting out and meeting people, kind of knowing what they think and feel – because that is important to me to educate myself and knowing what to do. I think the beginning of a plan: Here’s what I’ve been able to absorb, here’s what the documents and  literature and things that have been written, here’s been my experiences, and probably some draft outline of here are some things that I think are important. So I know that there is the start of visioning and goals and missions and how does that all incorporate into all that as well [...]. So I think I would be able to come up with something that is fairly robust in terms of  here  are the players and here are some of the people that we need to continue to meet with and work on, here are some the issues that we can build on, and here are some action plans that we could take to alleviate X, Y, or Z.

David Nacht: You talk in terms of modern management parlance. I’m a lawyer. I talk in direct terms. Would you have things for us to vote on – move in particular directions which would affect our internal relations and external relations by September if you hit the ground in June?

Michael Ford: I think that’s a reasonable expectation that I would be able to say, here are some things that I would like to move forward with all alignment in terms of internal operations, and here are some relationships or some things that we need to pay more close attention to and here are some things that I think I’m going to need to get some help from you on. Now June, July, August, September, I don’t know if the reality of people being gone on vacation, so I’m trying to be realistic about are you getting the plethora of folks who are going to be available and all of that. But I think that I could at least articulate and have some things that I would want some movement on internally and possibly externally. But I think there’s a lot still that I would need to grasp, a lot of people I would need to meet. Because you could read stuff and then you can meet with people and get a different interpretation of what’s really going on.

David Nacht: Our budget cycle begins in the fall. Would you be able to participate in helping us formulate a budget?

Michael Ford: I definitely think so. I think leading up to that, plus there’s a cycle I’m sure, where  you would be starting that time where you look at what the budget needs to look like, and what are the obstacles, barriers, vulnerabilities that we need to be addressing coming for the budget cycle.

David Nacht: What is your biggest fear about coming here and taking this job?

Michael Ford: Well, I think trying to work through all these issues. I think there’s some lofty goals that can be realized but it’s going to take partnership, it’s going to take relationships, it’s going to take the board’s help and support in making those things happen. It’s not going to be done in a vacuum in order to get where we want to go. Time is creeping in, and we’ve got these different ideologies that seemed to make sense to me, based on what I read, but can they be realized given the economy, given some of the other struggles. We have money that is contingent on how the economy is doing. You get local taxes, you get federal assistance, you get state assistance, you get fair box revenue – these are things that come into play, but that money is not always as solid as you would like. So looking at other funded sources would be real critical to that. Those would be challenges. They’re not insurmountable, but I think getting those things under the belt, and getting special projects moved forward, I know there is money for stimulus coming through, I believe the park-and-ride and some buses …

David Nacht: What I think I hear you saying is that you see perhaps a bit of a disconnect between our very ambitious goals and fiscal realities of this economy, is that fair?

Michael Ford: That would be a fair assessment.

David Nacht: I think that’s a realistic appraisal.

Rich Robben: I was just looking through the report, our latest cost per service hour is $102 per service hour. We would like to see that somewhere around $96 per service hour. Where are the first areas you would look to trim expenses, impacting service, just offhand?

Michael: I would look at the type of service that you’re delivering. Is it the type of service that is necessary. I have often found that looking at our service criteria, or looking at our service plan planning, when I was a TriMet and I  was at the service department, we were able to trim some money there because the service wasn’t necessarily as efficient as it could be. So running headways, it’s more important to get  the buses running every 15 minutes as opposed to being inconsistent – do you mean financially what I would be looking at?

Rich Robben: What kind of areas of the operation, with their practices?

Michael Ford:
Scheduled overtime, I would be looking at that. Unscheduled overtime, how that’s looking? Productivity. Are people coming to work? What is our attendance looking like? Because when you have people not coming to work, you have replaced them with somebody on overtime. So you want to look at those type of issues. Our accident per vehicle, our accident per passenger, I mean those things are cost drivers and they affect people being at work. And you have that replacement cost plus paying for that person to be out – preventative maintenance and how preventive maintenance is being done, parts, warranty tracking – getting money back for warranty-related issues. Safety is a big issue, because you want to be on the front end. It’s one thing to have the accident and afterward you are managing that, but if you can reduce it before it happens. So where are we having slips, trips and falls at? Are we taking measurements to address those ahead of time, so that they don’t happen? Your most costly cost is your labor, your people, and taking care of them and making sure that they are doing okay and that you can avoid that is critical to the operation.

Paul Ajegba: Michael, we are currently a bus organization. We are trying to integrate rail into our organization. Everything seems to be on track – no pun intended – to make that happen. If for whatever reason, politically or financially, it does not happen, how would you feel about that?

Michael Ford: Well, I don’t think I would give up. I think the important thing is that the project and the focus makes sense. I came from an organization, for example, TriMet is pretty well-known for its service. But the big thing in working with my former boss, Fred Hansen, who is the general manager there, is that he was able through his relationships to get funding, to  get money. The last budget that President Bush had, three of the four projects were funded in Oregon, because of some diligence. To answer your question, I wouldn’t want to just give in to that. I would look at other alternatives, look at what else we could do. Maybe the timing won’t be right. But I think if we’re going to address the needs of Ann Arbor and the region we are going to have to get to that point. So I think we need to continue the discussions and all that. I don’t know if I would just feel defeated at that point. I just feel like I would keep trying and finding ways to do that.

Paul Ajegba: Even if it is beyond your control?

Michael Ford: Well, if it is beyond my control, in terms of just can’t get it done?

Paul Ajegba: As I said for political reasons or for financial reasons or for regional issues that you can’t have anything to do with, even if you can get money from Washington, but because the stakeholders are not coming together to make it happen, how would you feel about that?

Michael Ford: Well, I would be concerned. And I would be still looking to see what we could still do to try to make it happen. [...] I think that being able to carry a message of why this is important in getting other relationships and other people and other agencies to help support what you are doing and leveraging that is the best you can do. No, I would probably feel somewhat disappointed it didn’t happen.

David Nacht: Ann Arbor and the region – what have you observed? What do you like – not personally but related to transit?  What have  you noticed about our community compared to other places you’ve been, about our system relevant to the job?

Michael Ford: I grew up right next to the University of Washington – my mom still has a house there. I grew up in an area where transportation was a vital thing for college students and for people getting around. For me personally – I’m getting a little off the subject – it has that feel to it. But what I also see is possibility of what other things can be done here. So it feels like it’s kind of on the precipice of moving forward and other things that could potentially happen. So when I look around and look at the Seattle system would work where Portland was several years ago, I see opportunity to enhance the transportation system to make it more robust and to even have potentially separation of grade and make things more user-friendly, because of where I see things trying to go. So that’s exciting to me. I see the possibilities of what more it could be.

AATA Board Deliberations on Michael Ford

Charles Griffith led off commentary by saying that he thought Ford had the skills to do the job, allowing that there would be a learning curve, because Ford had not held a similar position. Rich Robben noted what he liked about Ford: he’s people-oriented. Robben cited Ford’s answers about cost-cutting, which revealed that Ford understood that labor was the largest part of the budget. Board chair David Nacht solicited any negative impressions by asking his colleagues to identify deficits and red flags. For his part, he noted that the board had identified a “strong budgeting type” as one of the criteria they’d specified, and on that scale Ford was somewhat of a “stretch candidate.”

Ted Annis began his remarks by saying, “I like this fellow a lot.” Annis described Ford as pliable and adaptable. “Part of me wants to love him to death,” Annis said. But Annis said that as he listened to Ford’s answers, a number of them were not on target, and “not crisp and clear.” It  made him wonder, continued Annis, if Ford was seasoned enough to take the job. Annis appealed to his previous experience in hiring, when there was a situation where he was desperate enough to fill a position that he looked past his concerns, that it had been a lose-lose proposition for his organization and the candidate.

Nacht allowed that he shared Annis’ unease, but noted Ford’d resume and other things he heard in his answers made him a good candidate.  Nacht said, “I do not like him as an interviewee,” saying he preferred crisper answers. What Ford offered, Nacht said, was something more amorphous, what Nacht called “a softer approach.” Nacht said he felt that this approach would be able to generate support in the community for transit by approaching people “in that very Ann Arbor-y kind of way.”

Annis allowed that Ford was a listener. He then recruited Griffith to help him read through a dim copy of a recommendation letter from San Joaquin, which he said was a very strong letter of recommendation. Annis said that on Ford’s list of accomplishments in the letter, the establishment of data metrics and usable information, as well as the charting of objectives were the kind of points that impressed him. But Annis said that the same kind of crispness suggested in the letter was not on display during the interview. Annis said that he was dismayed that Ford didn’t seem to be aware of his own metrics. With respect to the crispness issue, Annis allowed that he’d perhaps been influenced by the other candidate (Carl Jackson), who was extraordinarily crisp.

Nacht noted that Ford had not backed down when pressed by Annis about the possibility of simply CC-ing Ford on requests to the head of the finance department, which he felt was important. Robben said that he was struck by Ford’s emphasis on aligning the people with the position. Nacht followed up on Robben’s comment by saying that Ford had expressed in a diplomatic way that he’ll make tough decisions about people who are not performing up to expectation.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with Ford to become the CEO of AATA.

Note: Ford was not present for the deliberations, but returned to the board room – to applause from AATA staff who attended – to hear the news, and stayed for the remainder of the meeting.

Auditor’s Report

Dave Fisher, of the accounting firm Rehmann Robson, gave the board a clean bill of health after the firm’s audit. The report included an evaluation of controls in place for federally-funded programs, and Fisher reported that there were no questioned costs. In his verbal presentation to the board, Fisher highlighted some suggestions for “closing the loop” on some procedures that included initialing of certain documents, plus the involvement of an additional person in key controls like payroll maintenance. Board chair Nacht confirmed with AATA controller Phil Webb, who attends AATA board meetings, that he was comfortable implementing Fisher’s recommendations.

Then Nacht expressed his dissatisfaction with the level of service that had been provided by Rehmann Robson, saying, “The entire accounting profession seems ‘out to lunch’!” In the fall of 2008, Nacht said, when the country was going through a major financial crisis, AATA had received no communication from Rehmann Robson with any type of advice or concern.

Jesse Bernstein took a bit of the edge off the moment by lightheartedly asking if there was a procedure for disagreeing with the board chair.  Bernstein said that the role of the auditor was to come in once a year and check that procedures were being followed, not to provide financial advice. Annis confirmed with Bernstein – which he did –  that what Bernstein was saying was that “we shouldn’t be beating him up.”

Annis said he thought that much of AATA’s money had been put into U.S. Treasury bills, but that it had been the board in the form of Paul Ajegba, Sue McCormick, and himself who had “taken the bull by the horns” to do that. Webb spoke up to say  that in the summer of 2008, when the property tax revenues had come from the city of Ann Arbor and had hit the bank all at once, he had not done as good a job as he should have in parceling the amount out among several banks in a timely fashion to spread the risk. Queried by Nacht, Webb said that procedures were in place to ensure that the parceling out happened this year. Webb also said that based on the first six months of the fiscal year, AATA was on course to stay within its budget this year.

Purchase of Service Contracts: Increase to Reflect Fully-Allocated Costs

The AATA is funded partly by a property tax millage paid by Ann Arbor property owners. The AATA provides service to communities other than Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and Superior Township – through “purchase of service” contracts. As the AATA staff memo on POSAs indicates, in 2008 the board directed staff to bring the purchase of service contracts in line with the AATA’s actual cost by 2012. By way of example, the city of Ypsilanti’s contract for fixed-route service was for $223,316 in 2009. Staff analysis is that to match the “fully-allocated cost,” that number would rise some 30% to $291,034.

In deliberations on the resolution adopting the increases to the POSAs, Ted Annis ventured that if he were the mayor of Ypsilanti, his “push-back” would be: “Okay, do it less than $103 per service hour!” Annis voted against the resolution.

Outcome: With dissent from Annis, the board adopted the resolution to bring POSAs in line with fully-allocated costs.

Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update: Conditional Support

In reviewing Ann Arbor’s transportation plan update, which was presented to the board a few months ago by Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, the board identified $63 million in improvements attributed to the AATA. The resolution adopted by the board stressed that the board supported the plan, but had no source of funding for the $63 million identified. During brief deliberations, Ted Annis said that the wording of the resolution was “beautiful” but that he worried that city council members and other politicians might only remember the headline and forget that the AATA was explicitly not committing to the $63 million.

Outcome: Unanimous adoption of the resolution of conditional support for the Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update.

Present: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba, Rich Robben

Absent: Sue McCormick

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, May 20 at 6:30 p.m. at AATA headquarters, 2700 S. Industrial Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 1
AATA Interviews Two; Re-Interview to Follow Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:00:52 +0000 Dave Askins Michael Ford AATA Ann Arbor interview

Michael Ford's interview by the full AATA board. From left to right: Ted Annis, Charles Griffith, Jesse Bernstein, Michael Ford, David Nacht, Paul Ajegba, Sue McCormick, Rich Robben.

The board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority met at AATA headquarters on South Industrial Wednesday morning to conduct public interviews of the two finalists for the executive directorship of the organization. The field had been narrowed down to two candidates after interviews of five finalists two weeks ago: Carl Jackson, currently general manager and CEO of the Macon Transit Authority in Macon, Georgia; and Michael Ford, currently with MG Ford Consulting in Camas, Washington, and formerly assistant general manager and COO of the San Joaquin Regional Transit District.

No decision has been made to make an offer based on the interviews. Ford is to be re-interviewed either in Ann Arbor,  by video conference, or some other means with a timetable as yet undetermined.

The Chronicle was able to observe the hour-long session with Ford, which started around 8 a.m., but due to other commitments could not stay for Jackson’s interview. Touching base with board member Jesse Bernstein later in the day, he said the questions put to both candidates were the same. Various follow-up questions asked of Ford may not necessarily have been asked of Jackson. In all cases, the phrasing of the questions reflects a paraphrase by The Chronicle, not necessarily an exact quote. The questioning proceeded from right-to-left (audience perspective) around the board table:

Interview Questions Asked by AATA Board

  • How would you deal with a management subordinate who is not performing up to expectation? (Rich Robben)
  • What have you done in your last position to improve cost effectiveness? (David Nacht)
  • Have you ever looked at metrics like dollars-per-service-hour or dollars-per-service-mile? (Nacht)
  • Have you had to deal directly with elected officials? How would you go about creating a constructive relationship with them? (Sue McCormick)
  • If you were in this position, how would you propose to keep the board informed? (McCormick)
  • How do you prefer that the board communicate with staff? (McCormick) Follow-up from Bernstein: How would you feel about a member of the board going directly to maintenance staff about the issue of cleanliness of the buses?
  • The board expects the CEO to be responsive to the community. How would you get out into the community? (Paul Ajegba) Followup from McCormick: Given that you need to be the “face of the AATA,” how would you approach doing that in the first 30 days on the job?
  • Suppose there is a situation where you are right and the board is wrong. How would you handle that situation? (Ajegba) Followup from McCormick: What one word would you use to describe the relationship you want to have with the board?
  • What legacy are you going to be leaving behind at your last job? What would people at that job say about your leadership style? (Nacht) Follow-up from Nacht: What’s one thing you left behind that’s there because you were there?
  • Michael Ford AATA Ann Arbor interview

    Before the board entered the room to conduct the interview, Michael Ford, sitting alone at the board table, reviewed material in front of him. Something he saw caused him to break a smile.

  • In an environment of service changes and tight budgets, there may be pressure on board members to try to micro-manage AATA decisions. How would you handle the board’s expectations? (Nacht)
  • The AATA is “governed” by a seven-member board appointed by the mayor of Ann Arbor. Please define what “governed” means as it applies to the board’s authority and responsibility. (Bernstein)
  • How do you measure the success of your transit organization? Are there key indicators that are relevant to evaluating performance? (Bernstein)
  • Given what you know about our transportation system here and your experience, what have you done that would help us here? (Charles Griffith)
  • Under normal circumstances, what kind of decisions would you delegate to staff and which kind would you reserve for yourself? (Griffith)
  • How would you use the comparative database of national transit data in evaluating AATA? (Ted Annis)
  • What is your biggest concern in lack of experience for this particular job? Where will your steepest learning curve be? (Nacht)
  • What were your annual travel budgets in your previous position? (Annis)
  • What is your general rule-of-thumb approach with staff to industry participation? (McCormick)

In our phone conversation with Bernstein, he noted that for any job and any pool of candidates, “there’s never any perfect candidate.” In explaining that the board had not yet made an offer,  he said that they wanted to collect additional information before doing so. That will start with a re-interview of Michael Ford.

Bernstein said that the board would like to make an offer as soon as possible.

Previous reporting by The Chronicle includes an article on the announcement of the two finalists.

]]> 0