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Ann Arbor City Council Terminates Employment Agreement With City Administrator

In a 7 to 4 vote,Ann Arbor’s City Council voted last night to terminate City Administrator Howard Lazarus’ employment.  89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan was at the meeting and has the details.

"Elected people may come and go, but those who work as staff should have stable jobs and should not be fired due to politics."

Residents voiced their opinions after Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus was fired without cause after working for the city since 2016.  By approving a resolution to conclude employment, Ann Arbor’s city council agreed to pay Lazarus about $275,000.  That covers his salary for the rest of the year and unused leave time. 

Resident Julie Roth expressed her disapproval of the termination during public comment.

"The notion that this is straightforward personnel matter that you simply can’t speak about reeks of falsehood. This was a completely political move. If there was something that you couldn’t talk about that was reason for termination, then the termination would have been unanimous."

As part of the termination agreement, Lazarus will continue in his role as city administrator until February 29th.  I spoke with him after the meeting.

"Council has the ability to pick who they want to lead the city and that’s what they did. It’s within their right under the charter and is consistent with the employment agreement that I signed, so I respect their wished and wish everyone well"

City Council Member Jack Eatonfrom the 4th ward voted in favor of concluding the employment agreement with Lazarus.  Tension grew between Lazarus and some council members last year when he applied for another job in Gainesville, Florida and expressed issues with some council members.

Jack: "The separation agreement is a product of negotiations were we agreed to not really go into the details of the reasons for him leaving, and so I’m going to honor his wishes that we not comment on the reasons behind his departure. But I wish him the best, and I thank him for the service that he provided over the last couple of years."
Jorge: "While you can’t comment on the details, was it like a mutual kind of situation thing, or was it more city council saying that they want somebody else?"
Jack: "A little of both when it was obvious that he didn’t have majority support, we negotiated his settlement agreement."

Council Member Anne Bannister from the first ward also voted in favor of terminating the employment agreement and explains in more detail the support that Council Member Eaton referred to.

"I think the roles and responsibilities of the administrator and the council members wasn’t functioning as it should. And I’ve been through three evaluation cycles and have given it a lot of deep thought."

Council Member Chip Smith from the 5th ward voted against firing Lazarus.

"I’m incredibly disappointed in my colleagues, I believe that this is a conclusion of a corrupt process that was handled completely behind closed doors despite what was said this evening there’s been no discussion of this in the weeks prior with the broader council or with the public. It’s a political firing, this was a theatre designed to railroad somebody of their job, completely corrupt process."

Mayor Christopher Taylor also voted against the termination and explains what will happen after Lazarus leaves at the end of February.

"Thereafter, we will have an interim city administrator, yet to be named. After the city administrator gets his feet under him, we will begin the search process. The typical search process including an articulation of a job description, an identification of a job consultant, the posting of a job, the review of resumes and references, the identification of finalists who will then come to Ann Arbor to meet the council and the public, and a decision will be made thereafter."

No word yet on how long that process will take.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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