Filling the Ann Arbor City Admin Job

Resolution at April 19 meeting will appoint interim, post job

The April 19, 2011 Ann Arbor city council meeting agenda – moved to Tuesday to accommodate Passover – will include an item appointing an interim city administrator. The same item will authorize a job description for the city’s soon-to-be open position.

The job opening will be be created by outgoing city administrator Roger Fraser, who announced his resignation publicly at the end of a Feb. 28 city council work session on the city’s budget. In early May, Fraser will be taking a job as a deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan.

The recommendation to be considered by the council at its April 19 meeting will come from a search committee, which was appointed at the council’s March 21 meeting. The committee was tasked with recommending an interim administrator and with presenting a plan for a selection process to hire a permanent administrator. The plan is to provide for internal as well as external candidates for the permanent job.

The interim job was open just to internal candidates, with the stipulation that the interim administrator would not be considered for the permanent job. Although the wording of the April 19 council resolution is not yet final, the process for making the permanent hire is expected to begin with a job posting immediately following the council’s April 19 meeting. The committee’s recommendation on base salary will be to target recruitment in the $145,000-$150,000 range.

At the March 21 council meeting, mayor John Hieftje indicated that he would like to see the hiring process completed by late summer, or mid-summer if possible. To meet that goal, an ideal timeline would leave the posting open for 30 days, with basic vetting of candidates completed during that time. Also during that period, starting in early May, the search committee will be recommending that a consultant – Scott Reilly with Affion Public – make a site visit to Ann Arbor for a day and a half of meetings with various constituencies, to gather input on the “intangible” aspects of job qualifications that are expected of the successful candidate.

The ideal timeline would use May and June to winnow the field of candidates and to interview finalists. The city’s human resources department would collaborate with Affion throughout the process. An offer would made at the beginning of July, and the new permanent city administrator would start at the beginning of August.

At meetings held on Wednesday and Friday morning – April 13 and 15 – the search committee discussed goals for the interim administrator, salary range for the permanent job, the public process, and how the city’s human resources department will work with an outside consultant.

Search Committee Membership

Members of the search committee are: mayor John Hieftje;  Sabra Briere (Ward 1); Christopher Taylor (Ward 3); Marcia Higgins (Ward 4); and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). Higgins is chair of the committee.

In making nominations at the council’s March 21 meeting, Hieftje indicated that the committee members had not been chosen by seniority, but rather to get a good mix of experience and perspective. He stressed that the committee would only make recommendations and that the whole council would need to approve all the decisions.

Committee members were all present for both meetings on April 13 and 15, except for Briere, who did not attend on Wednesday, and Taylor, who did not attend on Friday. At both meetings, the search committee members were joined by Robyn Wilkerson, the city’s head of human resources. Richard Martonchik, also with the city’s human resources department, attended Wednesday’s meeting. The meetings took place in the conference room on the fourth floor of the city hall building.

Permanent Job: Recruitment

At the March 21 council meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had asked that when the hiring plan is presented to the council, they also receive a cost impact analysis of various options for doing the search.

In search committee discussions, Wilkerson pointed out that if the city’s human resources department handled the entire process, then no direct costs for recruitment and assessment would be incurred by the city.

However, Wilkerson pointed out two potential disadvantages of not using a search firm to assist with the search. First, the city’s HR department would not necessarily have as wide a network as an search firm, through which it could reach potential candidates for the job. Second, there could be a perception, even if not accurate, that the city could not maintain the confidentiality of an application as well as an outside consultant.

She noted that when the candidates are brought in for interviews, at that point their names would become public. It might be that candidates drop out at that phase, she said.

Wilkerson mentioned three possibilities for outside consulting – the Michigan Municipal League, Career Directions, and Affion Public. She said that Career Directions might be more interested in assisting with the assessment phase than the recruitment phase.

In recommending Affion, a firm based in Harrisburg, Penn.,Wilkerson noted its nationwide network and previous experience working with the city of Ann Arbor. Affion’s Scott Reilly, who would be handling the administrator search, was highly recommended by former community services area administrator Jayne Miller, Wilkerson said. She said that Miller had reported Reilly was good at finding the type of person an organization was interested in.

Affion’s previous work for the city of Ann Arbor included consulting on the search for the city’s park and recreation manager, as well as the park and recreation deputy manager, in 2008. Those searches resulted in the hires of Colin Smith (an internal hire) and Jeff Straw.

Affion’s direct fee would be $18,000, Wilkerson reported to the committee. That would not include the cost of site visits by the consultant or travel for interviews of candidates, she said. Asked for an estimate of those costs, Wilkerson ballparked the number at $4,500, but noted that it depended on the cost of airfares at the time. Higgins said she she found it reasonable that the overall cost would be less than $25,000.

The flat-fee structure of Affion contrasts with a percentage-of-salary level used by the Michigan Municipal League. The 10% that’s typically used by the MML would translate to $14,500-$15,000, based on the $145,000-$150,000 range that the city’s HR department is recommending for recruitment. Fraser’s base salary is $145,354.

Permanent Job: Salary

In reaching the recommended salary level to be used for advertising the job, Martonchik provided search committee members with comparable salaries of other city administrators in Michigan, as well as in other parts of the country. The city of Champaign, Ill. had just recently undertaken a similar search, and had been willing to share its research on comparable salaries, Martonchik told the committee. The committee was presented with comparable data in three different sets – Michigan cities, Big Ten cities, and midwestern cities. The Chronicle combined the sets of cities to compile the following list, sorted by base salary from low to high:

Municipality   Population   Salary

State_College_PA  42,034   $112,439
Wauwatosa_WI      46,000   $115,169
Battle_Creek_MI   53,364   $122,500
Royal_Oak_MI      60,000   $123,500
Wyoming_MI        12,000   $123,717
Middletown_OH     51,600   $125,000
Troy_MI           80,000   $133,000
Novi_MI           52,231   $133,482
Janesville_WI     61,310   $136,000
Plymouth_MN       71,930   $137,824
Southfield_MI     78,000   $137,971
Sterling_Heights 124,471   $140,207
Grand_Rapids_MI  198,000   $142,000
Ann_Arbor_MI     114,000   $145,354
Sioux_City_IA     82,684   $148,636
East_Lansing_MI   48,500   $150,000
Edina_MN          47,000   $150,000
St.Louis_Park_MN  45,000   $151,866
Farmington_Hills  82,111   $152,491
Washtenaw County           $155,000
AATA CEO                   $160,000
Hamilton_OH       63,000   $160,000
Iowa_City_IA      62,220   $160,000
Champaign_IL	  81,055   $171,440
Ames_IA           52,319   $176,199
Evanston_IL       73,874   $185,000
Dubuque_IA        57,637   $198,844

*Reflects voluntary decrease in salary of 3%. Was at $147,000.


Besides base salary, the committee was also presented with data on vehicle allowances, bonuses, and deferred compensation. Some kind of vehicle allowance appears standard, while bonuses are rare.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted that Champaign had included Ann Arbor in its study of cities of populations from 40,000-100,000 – even though Ann Arbor’s population exceeds the parameters for the study. That was because Champaign felt that Ann Arbor was comparable for its purposes. He wondered, though, if the other cities to which Champaign compared itself were comparable for Ann Arbor’s purposes. Martonchik felt that the comparatives were appropriate.

Martonchik also shared with committee members the average compensation for Eugene, Ft. Collins and College Station: $170,000. Average salaries for deputy city managers in the western part of the U.S., he said, were $163,000 for the following cities: Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Tempe, Ft. Collins and Eugene.

Permanent Job: Public Process

At Friday’s meeting, part of the conversation focused on how the public will give the recruiter input about desired qualities of the candidate, in addition to the qualifications listed in the formal job description.

That job description is expected to be posted immediately following the council’s April 19 meeting – Higgins had reminded her colleagues at the council’s April 4 meeting that they were supposed to provide feedback on the current administrator job description by April 8. As one of the places the job should be posted, Wilkerson mentioned the job board of the Alliance for Innovation, which describes itself as “an international network of progressive governments and partners committed to transforming local government by accelerating the development and dissemination of innovations.” [.pdf of draft job description] Retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel is a former board member of the Alliance.

The “intangible” part of the job description is proposed to be gleaned by the consultant, likely to be Affion Public, on a visit to Ann Arbor in early May. Wilkerson suggested it’s important for a one-on-one meeting to take place between the consultant and individual councilmembers, plus between the consultant and staff members who report directly to the city administrator. In discussion with search committee members, the following groups were also identified as important to include: employees; citizens – likely via neighborhood associations; and the university, business and nonprofit community.

Interim Appointment: Goals, Conditions

At Friday morning’s meeting, committee members briefly discussed the need to define some specific goals for the interim job, so that important policy issues don’t get overlooked in the transition. Wilkerson suggested that the fire protection services study and the solid waste collection study would be useful to call out specifically. Derezinski also suggested that the implementation of budget decisions would be useful to specify as goals for the interim administrator.

Candidates for the interim job were solicited internal to the city’s organization with a simple form indicating interest. [.pdf of application form for interim city administrator]. A key condition for the interim job is expressed on the form: “Internal applicants who are planning to apply for the permanent position of City Administrator cannot be considered for the Interim role due to a potential conflict of interest.”

Current public services area administrator Sue McCormick has been widely assumed to be a logical appointment as interim and possibly as permanent administrator. But based on the condition that applicants for the permanent job cannot be considered for the interim position, if McCormick is interested in the job long-term, she won’t be able to serve as interim.

The Chronicle asked McCormick on Feb. 28, the night Fraser announced his resignation, if she’d contemplated accepting the challenge of the administrator’s job. McCormick explained that she’d not had much time to think about it – she learned of Fraser’s departure only a few hours before.

Interim Appointment: History

Historically, the city has taken a variety of approaches to appointing an interim city administrator. When Del Borgsdorf resigned in 1990, then-assistant city administrator Donald Mason was appointed on an interim basis.

But the city of Ann Arbor’s organizational structure no longer includes a deputy position – whether that’s called a “deputy,” “assistant,” or “associate.” In that regard, the transition to a new administrator will be different from the transition in 1990. It will also be different from the kind of transition the community witnessed recently for Washtenaw County. Deputy administrator Verna McDaniel was a natural possibility for the administrator position when Bob Guenzel retired, partly because she already held the deputy position. She was the only candidate that the county board of commissioners interviewed for the administrator’s job, and was promoted in May 2010.

Instead of an assistant city administrator, the city has key top-level area administrators, all of whom report to the city administrator: safety services area administrator; community services area administrator; public services area administrator; and chief financial officer.

Those positions are currently held by Barnett Jones, Sumedh Bahl, Sue McCormick and Tom Crawford, respectively. The principle of civilian oversight of police powers would likely preclude consideration of Jones as interim; however, the other three could be candidates based on their positions within the city. In his capacity as chief financial officer, Crawford could have the broadest knowledge and experience with all of the city’s departments.

But even when the city has in the past had an assistant city administrator, the person in that position has not always been tapped for the interim position, when the city administrator has resigned. When Alfred Gatta resigned in 1995, the council appointed a two-person team as interim: city clerk Winifred Northcross and Ron Olson, head of parks and recreation. The joint appointment of Northcross and Olson was made, despite the fact that the city had an assistant city administrator at the time – Ron Bauman. [.pdf of council resolutions/minutes when it appointed the last three interim administrators]

The council minutes show that the choice not to include Bauman was controversial. The motion to appoint the two-person team failed on the first try, but the motion to appoint a three-person team – Northcross, Olson and Bauman – also failed. So the council returned to its original two-person team and approved it on a 6-4 majority.

The closest parallel today to the appointment of Northcross and Olson would be city clerk Jackie Beaudry and parks and recreation manager Colin Smith.

The position of assistant city administrator eventually evolved to “associate” city administrator – Olson and Northcross then both became associate city administrators. Northcross retired, and was replaced by Susan Pollay. Pollay was subsequently appointed executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

When Neal Berlin resigned in 2001, Olson was appointed interim, supported by Pollay. In 2006, Eve Silberman, writing for the Ann Arbor Observer, described it this way: “When Berlin himself left, former parks boss Ron Olson and Downtown Development Authority director Susan Pollay held the city together until Fraser came on board in April 2002.”

It’s partly due to that experience as associate city administrator that some in the community have suggested Pollay as a candidate for the current opening.

Other names of people who have logged long-term service with the city and have some experience across more than one department include Wendy Rampson and Matt Naud. Rampson previously worked in the systems planning unit (a part of the public services area), and is now head of the planning department (a part of the community services area). Naud is environmental coordinator, and in that capacity works across different departments. Naud is also the assistant emergency manager for the city.

The council will likely hold a closed session toward the beginning of their April 19 meeting to deliberate on their choice of interim administrator, and only after that point will the name of the appointee be made public.

The interim administrator will be paid an unspecified monthly stipend in addition to their current city salary.


  1. By Leah Gunn
    April 15, 2011 at 9:00 pm | permalink

    Correction – when Susan Pollay served as an interim city adminstrator with Ron Olson she was already Executive Director of the DDA. She did both jobs until Roger Fraser was hired.

  2. April 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm | permalink

    Susan Pollay would be an excellent interim administrator, assuming that she is not interested in the permanent job. She is a very effective administrator and knows the city well. Further, since she is not on the city staff, she would not be having to deal with a future supervisor in interacting with an incoming administrator.

  3. By LiberalNIMBY
    April 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm | permalink

    Has Affion done any work in recruiting CEO-level city officials? I really don’t want to believe that they are being considered flippantly on the basis that they helped recruit one other external person for the city. Fraser’s job is perhaps the most important—and unique—one to a city.

    Does Affion have greater familiarity than the Michigan Municipal League with the kinds of hard skills a city manager should have? I do know that they are more expensive than MML and not Michigan-based, so I should hope so.

    I trust that the outsourcing of this recruitment process is a good decision; I just hope the committee has done its due diligence in examining the recommendation for Affion.