“This was a tough decision because we all liked Mr. Crawford,” says Ward 5 councilmember Erica Briggs, who cosponsored the resolution to conclude the administrator’s employment after an investigation into claims of racism and sexism against the seventeen-year-veteran and former city chief financial officer. “We need to make sure that it’s a good place to work and that we respect our policies and our values. And sometimes that requires us to make really tough decisions.”
It started in May when staff members went to mayor Christopher Taylor citing remarks Crawford allegedly made, among them: “This is why you have to be careful hiring minorities–because you can’t fire them or let them go” and “She got a butch haircut. I didn’t know she was gay.”
“The specific concerns about Mr. Crawford’s insensitivities around issues of diversity from the individuals I interviewed were, in my view, consistent and credible,” wrote HR lawyer Jen Salvatore in the report. “Multiple individuals reported the same comments or same types of comments, [and] I do believe that the totality of circumstances supports a finding that the comments by Mr. Crawford violate the City’s Standards of Conduct Policy, Section 5.28 as conduct ‘detrimental to the image or reputation of the City or the operations of the workplace’.”
Based on the report, the city’s HR department recommended separation, and the city attorney’s office drew up papers. Crawford denied making some comments, said others were misconstrued, and offered to undertake an improvement plan around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but failed to persuade council’s activist majority to keep him–he resigned after council voted 8-3 to terminate him.
In his resignation letter, Crawford apologized. “The past eighteen months tested all of us–physically, emotionally and mentally,” he wrote. “As a leader I have reflected upon this time and recognize that I have not always been at my absolute best, which I now understand created hurt, distrust and anxiety amongst some staff … As a public servant, I have high standards for myself and staff, and I personally did not meet my own standards.”
“A leader has a higher standard,” agrees Taylor, who voted to part ways with Crawford along with his allies in council’s activist faction. “And one of the reasons why his leadership is untenable is because his continued presence would have a substantially detrimental effect on morale and retention and hiring … The report indicates in no uncertain terms that people would have a hard time working for an organization that included the employee.”
“Members of staff were ready to leave the organization in addition to a whole host of other issues,” says Briggs. “If council is willing to tolerate comments like this about African-American staff [from] your senior administrator, I think it’s difficult to recruit new employees.”
While Briggs won’t name names, she confirms that the staff members who went to Taylor weren’t new recruits but seasoned veterans.
Three councilmembers voted against the termination. Ward 2’s Kathy Griswold, who also opposed it, nevertheless voted with the majority to leave open the possibility of reconsideration.
Griswold says the investigation wasn’t “thorough” and though the report “definitely raised some issues … Crawford then presented an improvement plan, not only for himself, but for the organization.”
Griswold says “some of [the alleged comments] don’t seem to fit” with the city administrator she knew. Others, she says, “are being interpreted in different ways that in my opinion are not consistent with Tom Crawford’s personality.” She believes that “in some cases he was thinking out loud,” and notes that “in some cases what he allegedly said may not even be what he said.”
Instead of removing the administrator, Griswold believes that Crawford and his accusers should have sat down together with HR and resolved their differences. Told some staff reportedly said they’d resign if Crawford stayed, Griswold replies that based on her personal experience, “I think the organization would be better off with Tom Crawford as our leader.”
Crawford stepped in as acting administrator in February 2020 after Howard Lazarus was fired. Council never did a performance review of Crawford’s work as city administrator, which included months doubling as CFO until a successor was hired.
“He struggled with this new job, but he certainly worked hard to overcome the incredible challenges that the year presented,” says Ward 1’s Lisa Disch. But, she adds, “I did witness him struggling a fair amount on DEI work. He did not think that there needed to be a DEI manager or director hired for the city.” The city still doesn’t have one–but the week Crawford resigned, council chose thirty folks to serve on a new equity and inclusion committee.
Griswold counters that Crawford’s performance as city administrator “exceeded all expectations during a very difficult period,” and forcing him out over alleged offensive comments shows that “the city’s priorities have always been loyalty over competence.”
“That’s nonsense and itself a corrosive framing of the situation,” retorts Taylor. “The city values a professional workplace. It’s not a question of loyalty or politics. Loyalty or politics have nothing to do with this.”
Future candidates could be forgiven for wondering, because all of the councilmembers who defended Crawford voted to fire Lazarus last year. The mayor and his allies backed Lazarus then–but united to oust his successor.
This article has been edited since it was published in the September 2021 Ann Arbor Observer to make the corrections noted below.
Calls & letters, October 2021:
Crawford was not terminated
A September Inside Ann Arbor article mischaracterized the departure of city administrator Tom Crawford: council voted to “conclude” Crawford’s employment, not to “terminate” it.
“This is an important distinction,” mayor Christopher Taylor emailed. “The Administrator’s employment contract provided for $160K+ of severance and accrued vacation if Council terminated ‘without cause’ …
“In this case, the Administrator, after advice from his attorney, submitted a resignation. Council accepted the resignation and approved a separation that provided for $0 in severance, but did provide for 45 days of transition services, payment of accrued vacation time, and the ability to buy in to the health care plan that would have been the Administrator’s had he retired.”
Councilmember Jeff Hayner emailed another correction: “Erica Briggs represents Ward 5,” not his Ward 1.” And Briggs did not co-sponsor the separate resolution to release the investigator’s report – that was sponsored by Crawford supporters Kathy Griswold and Ali Ramlawi.