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Washtenaw United: Ann Arbor to be inclusive in its bicentennial celebrations

Ann Arbor city administrator Milton Dohoney, Jr.
Yana Galanin Photography
Ann Arbor city administrator Milton Dohoney, Jr.


Milton Dohoney Jr. is a seasoned executive with 36 years of leadership and managerial experience gained from working in the public sector in four large cities.


City of Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Bicentennial

Destination Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Bicentennial Kickoff Celebration


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and a Happy New Year to one and all! I'm David Fair, and welcome to a special Tuesday edition of Washtenaw United. With yesterday being New Year's Day, we opted to push our usual Monday talk to today. Having said that, this is going to be a year to remember in Ann Arbor. 2024 marks the city's bicentennial. Throughout the year, there are going to be occasions and celebrations, and it's going to look back on how the city got to this place and time and look ahead to what can be done to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community. On the other end of the phone line is one of the primary organizers of the city's bicentennial celebration this year. On a day-to-day basis, Milton Dohoney Junior serves as Ann Arbor's city administrator. Happy New Year to you, sir!

Milton Dohoney Jr.: Happy New Year to you! Thank you for having me on!

David Fair: Are you ready for a year's worth of celebrations?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: Yes, we are! We're extremely excited about it. We've been planning for several months. And there's still a lot more work to do, but we're ready to get going.

David Fair: Well, the official kickoff is just a few weeks away with an event scheduled at the Michigan Theater. Is that a public event?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: It is a public event. It's a ticketed event. The admission price is $50, and the proceeds will all go to support two legacy projects that we have: one being the establishment of a new Bicentennial Park and the other a renovation project of the Elks Lodge in Ann Arbor, which is a facility that has had a long-standing significance of the African American community.

David Fair: Ann Arbor was officially founded on April 4th of 1824, and that happens to fall on a Thursday. But I assume there will be some sort of to-do on or around that date. Do I assume correctly?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: Yes. The city recognizes, actually, May 25th as its official birthday. There will be an event on that day. But, as you indicated, we are going to be having events and activities throughout the full 12 months. So, the plan is to have something for everybody. A lot of events will be free to the public, and we want to encourage our whole community to get involved.

David Fair: And by saying "getting involved," there are still new and creative ways to celebrate this year. And you're open to ideas, right?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: We're open to ideas. We are encouraging groups to think about planning an activity or event. Since we're celebrating across 12 months, they may be able to come up with something for the second half of the calendar year. We are also encouraging groups to do events annually to think about co-branding with us, meaning they would still be doing their events, still using their logo, but they would also be using our brand to draw attention to the bicentennial.

David Fair: We're talking with Ann Arbor city administrator Milton Dohoney Junior on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. Milton is also a member of the city's bicentennial organizing committee. Milton, you came to Ann Arbor in August of 2021 as interim city manager, then took on the position full-time in March of 2022. I imagine, as co-chair of the organizing committee, you've had to do a rather quick and deep dive into the history of Ann Arbor. What's been your takeaway on 200 years of history?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: The city has really changed a lot over the course of time, which is no real surprise. But we've gone from a community that had certain basis for origin. We've evolved. Housing has evolved. The activity centers and the community have evolved. We want to make sure that the celebration is inclusive of all of our residents. So, we invite people to join committees. We invite people to create their own activity. Tell us what it is. Tell us when it's going to happen. We will help you to market what you're doing. We have a calendar of events that is made by Destination Ann Arbor, and so people will be able to go online throughout the year and see events that are being added when they occur and where they will be taking place.

David Fair: There was, at one point in history, a conversation about Ann Arbor becoming the capital city in Michigan. Lansing obviously won that. But it also meant that Ann Arbor got the University of Michigan, and it has certainly become central to the city's identity. Will that town-and-gown relationship be a part of this bicentennial celebration and acknowledgment?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: University of Michigan has been actively involved in the coordinating committee. They are trying to determine what specifically they want to do to show their involvement. We do expect to have some activities that the university either sponsors or puts on themselves. We've also got full participation from Ann Arbor Public Schools. They have created a curriculum, K-through-12, around the history of the city that they're going to be teaching kids. So, it's really been shaping up to be a pretty good celebration, and we're all very excited about it.

David Fair: As you alluded to, Milton, no city is without its shadows and skeletons. While Ann Arbor is widely perceived to be a bastion of progressive liberalism today, it's not always been that way. It took until 1975, before the city had its first Black mayor, that being Albert Wheeler. He served just three years in that role but left a lasting legacy through his work as politician and professor. But that was less than 50 years ago. How is that journey of working towards becoming a more inclusive, diverse and equitable community play into the marking of 200 years in Ann Arbor?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: That's one of the things that you can take note of about current-day Ann Arbor. So ,when I came in October of '21, there was a news article indicating that I was the first African-American city administrator in 43 years. Coincidentally, we happen to have an African-American person that is leading the community foundation, that diverse people are in leadership positions throughout the city. There is a conscious effort to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. And instead of other people deciding what's relevant and what someone may want to see, we're engaging people to ask, "You tell us what the celebration would need to look like for you to feel included and for you to feel that we're speaking to where you are in the community as well."

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU as we look at Ann Arbor's bicentennial year with city administrator Milton Dohoney Junior. And this is a rather personal question, and I certainly hope not too intrusive, but does your experience as a Black man in America and currently in Ann Arbor inform the manner in which you're going about your job as city administrator?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: Absolutely, it does. I am a child of the sixties. I grew up in an environment in Louisville, Kentucky, where I didn't have full access to all of the things that were available in the community as a little kid. So, you carry those lessons with you. There were housing segregation efforts to try to open up housing. Martin Luther King came to my city a number of times. And so, I can erase those memories, and I wouldn't want to. So, yes, it does influence how I lead. I've been fortunate enough to be in five significant cities in the United States, and my life experience clearly impacts the decisions that I make and how I go about doing my job. So, it's intuitive for me to engage people. It's intuitive for me to be inclusive. It's intuitive for me to be comfortable in all settings. And I am.

David Fair: So, as we talk about the progression of a city over 200 years, we can also assess where we are and where we still need to go. Ann Arbor--certainly not without its issues on the DEI front. There's a lack of affordable housing. There is a growing income disparity. The Israel-Hamas war has brought more antisemitism and Islamophobia to the surface. While there is a year of celebration to be had, and progress can be noted, there's also a year of hard work to do. What is on the agenda to further address these issues in Ann Arbor in 2024?

Milton Dohoney Jr.: We have communications lines open to all parts of the community. There are elected leaders in communication with people that are supporting the Palestinian position and their elected leaders engaging with people from the Jewish community. We are partnering and working with other community-based organizations to try to be sensitive and have offerings that people feel like are relevant to them. You know, the bottom line for groups in our city--everyone wants to be heard. They feel like maybe I haven't always been heard. In my role, I can't erase mistakes that we may have made before. But it is incumbent upon me to do everything within my power as a chief executive of the city to ensure that we're listening, that we're engaging, that we're being as responsive as we can to all of our residents. And, sometimes, that gets messy, but it is necessary.

David Fair: I would like to thank you so much for taking time today so early in the New Year and sharing with us. And we will look forward to the year ahead and check back in. Thank you, Milton.

Milton Dohoney Jr.: Thank you very much for having me on. I appreciate it.

David Fair: That is Ann Arbor city administrator and bicentennial organizer Milton Dohoney Junior, our guest on a special Tuesday edition of Washtenaw United. For more information on today's topic and to get linked to all the information you need, go to our Web site at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


The City of Ann Arbor has been a catalyst for creating positive change and equitable opportunities in Washtenaw County.

In 2022, Ann Arbor hired their first director of organizational equity, Laura Orta, to strategize the city’s DEI efforts in cultural competency in the city’s workforce and greater diversity in public participation. In the same year following an election, the City of Ann Arbor welcomed its most diverse city council ever, with eight women, two African Americans, and two Asian Americans.

Since the pandemic, the government of Ann Arbor has also implemented an Equitable Engagement Initiative, to ensure that our city is inclusive of all of our residents in our policies, guidelines, and practices.

Learn about the diversity of businesses in the hospitality and service industry located throughout the greater Ann Arbor area.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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