A2Views
Mayor Christopher Taylor Has Made a Complete Mess of the City Administration.

In 1956 Ann Arbor voters approved a new charter which switched the running of the City by committees to management by a City Administrator. Mayor Brown recruited Guy Larcom to be City Administrator.



47 tear old Guy Larcom introduced to Council in former City Hall
Larcom served the City during a period of great growth. He protected the source of the city's water by negotiating the purchase of dams from Detroit Edison. He oversaw the construction of a new city hall.  He was highly respected by City officials, University Officials and the citizenry. He raised his family in the city. His son became the Sports Editor of the Ann Arbor News. His daughter-in-law was an Assistant City Attorney. Larcom retired after 16 years as City Administrator. Then he remained an Ann Arbor resident and stayed active in civic affairs.

After the Larcom retirement, the City repeatedly spent thousands of dollars on head hunters trying to find another Guy Larcom. Instead there was a revolving door of officials passing through the city. Those who weren't fired or forced to retire, used the position as a stepping stone to bigger things. One City Administrator moved far out of the City before moving to a higher office.

It looked like the end of the revolving door situation in 2020. The City hired a man who had lived with his family in the city for more than 25 years. Tom Crawford had been the City's Chief Financial Officer for 17 years, even longer than the period Guy Larcom had served the City. Crawford had twice served as Acting City Administrator and had received high grades in his performance evaluations. He had no reason to suspect he would receive anything other than high grades for his evaluation as City Administrator.
MLive photo. Taylor and Crawford
Crawford had an employment agreement that provided nine months of severance pay if he was terminated without "just cause/" The agreement described just cause as "willful misrepresentation to the City," and "an act of moral turpitude, willful misconduct, fraud, charged of a felony or conviction of a misdemeanor that would reflect negatively on the City, (such as, but not limited to, an offense involving drug/alcohol abuse or sexual misconduct), willful insubordination."

The employment agreement was entered on October 19, 2021.There were no problems with Crawford's performance in the following seven months. But in late May 2021 Mayor Christopher Taylor announced that unnamed City employees had complained to him about comments Crawford had made. The City has a 9 member Human Relations Commission which is empowered to investigate discrimination in violation of the City's human right ordinance. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, gender orientation and a number of other categories including perceived age and genetic information.   Violations of those provisions are civil infractions subject to a fine of up to $500. But there were no discrimination complaints. The complaints were about insensitive comments. It is not yet a violation of the City Code to make insensitive comments. No complaint was filed with the Commission.

An attorney named Jennifer Salvatore was retained to investigate the comments. She interviewed the complainants, but made no recordings of their statements. The report she prepared was based on notes she took. The report described the following comments attributed to Crawford:

1. In discussing his efforts to prevent HR Director Tom Guajardo from withdrawing his employment application, Crawford allegedly said: "This is why you have to be careful hiring minorities-because you can't fire them or let them go."
2. Regarding a proposal for a Juneteenth holiday: "[B]lack people already have a holiday [in MLK day]."
3. In discussing how the minority representation in the police department reflected the community population: "When only 10% of the people in Ann Arbor are black, I don't see why we have to worry about it."
4. Regarding a black female employee:
"[I]t was reported that Mr. Crawford describes her as "intimidating," and "angry."
5. "Allegedly, Mr. Crawford stated that the African American employee "gets his arrogance from the fact that he's married to a white woman."
6. "It was also reported that Mr. Crawford regularly uses the phrase: "the blacks" when talking about African Americans"
7. On learning an employee was in a same sex marriage, it was reported Crawford said, "She got a butch haircut. I didn't know she was gay." "What should I call her? Does she go by gay or lesbian?" He also asked how he should refer to her spouse.'"
8. Crawford reportedly said "[H]e thought people who were bi-sexual were "just doing it for attention."
9. Mr. Crawford is alleged to have expressed concern that female employees were benefitting disproportionately from that credit because women had to take care of the kids and female employees were the ones responsible for the domestic work. [B]e nice to the moms, because they are the ones taking care of the kids while working from home." "Mr. Crawford was observed noting that the City's sick leave policy affects female employees differently because women tend to be the ones who take the kids to the doctor."

Following the witness interviews, Salvatore confronted Crawford with the alleged comments about which she had taken notes. But she did not tell him who alleged the comments, or when or where they were allegedly made. There was no transcript of the witness interviews for Crawford to read. Nothing was in writing. No claim was made that Crawford had made any offensive comments in writing.

The Salvatore report said Crawford denied making some of the comments, explained others and said he didn't recall making others. For example, regarding the complaint about the use of the expression "the blacks," Crawford reportedly explained "he does use the term "black" and "African American" interchangeably - which he understood to be acceptable." Crawford said he didn't recall making the comment concerning hiring minorities. He explained that it made no sense because it was allegedly made in the context of trying to keep a minority withdrawing his employment acceptance. An employee indicated he was withdrawing his employment acceptance because of an improper interview process, but Crawford persuaded him to stay with the City.

The Salvatore report did not discuss the seemingly logical explanations provided by Crawford for some of the comments. For the comments Crawford denied making, Salvatore said she believed that Crawford was not telling the truth. She reached this conclusion because she said the complainant's recollections were consistent. But she didn't note that the complainants all had the opportunity to discuss their claims and make them consistent. She didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that Crawford had worked for the City for almost 18 years without complaints regarding his language and while receiving high evaluations.

Salvatore concluded that Crawford did not violate a personnel rule prohibiting "indecent or offensive conduct. There were no allegations of racist, sexist or homophobic slurs or "locker room talk" like that of the former president. She found he did not violate a City rule requiring behavior "in a professional and respectful manner." The report stated "the allegations at issue in this investigation did not involve any claim that Mr. Crawford has taken any adverse employment actions based on race, gender or any other protected category. Accordingly, based on the issues that I reviewed, I do not believe that a preponderance of the evidence supports that the City's Non Discrimination Policy has been violated."

The report concluded that Crawford made some comments that were "insensitive." She found that the comments violated a personnel rule
prohibiting "Engaging in any behavior or action, on or off duty, that is detrimental to the reputation or image of the city or the operations of the workplace." Based on her conclusions, she advised that Crawford and other management staff members be provided with diversity training.

A copy of the report was provided to the City Council members with 13 parts blacked out. Most of the redactions appeared to be of names, but a whole paragraph of a recommendation was also blacked out. Afterward, Crawford sent a memo to the Council in which he said "I take full responsibility for all of these comments and the harm they have caused. Whether I remember all of them or not is irrelevant, because individuals heard and felt harmed or excluded from the conversations we had. . . I do have an occasional tendency for making careless and insensitive remarks when I'm fatigued - and this past year was unprecedented and exhausting." He outlined a plan for diversity training and offered to serve a suspension.

On July 19, 2021, Mayor Taylor added a resolution to the July 20 Council agenda that provided for the removal of Crawford as City Administrator. In the afternoon of July 20, a memo was distributed to the City Council members. It did not provide the name of any author although City Attorney Postema prepared the final draft. The memo stated:

"My general practice concerning substantiated discriminatory comments would be to recommend to terminate employment immediately (though this could be effectuated by way of a resignation or separation agreement in addition to termination). Further, depending on the initial investigation, I would conduct an additional investigation in order to better understand if there are further and additional concerns beyond the issues that have been the subject of initial investigation."

Neither the memorandum nor the Council discussion identified any Crawford comments as discriminatory. Council members believed the memo was a recommendation to terminate Crawford's employment immediately. Despite strong objections from several Council members, that is what a majority voted to do. See the video of the Council discussion at
https://youtu.be/y5JrpujN3iM?t=13235

Following the meeting, Council member Jen Eyer posted an explanation of her vote to terminate in which she said, "The HR advice given to Council was clear: The city has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and discriminatory language. The city's policies and precedent require immediate termination in this situation." Council member Disch distributed an email newsletter saying: "Council received a memo by Human Resources director Tom Guajardo advising Council that to be consistent with past practice in cases like these, separation would be the proper course of action.

BUT IT WAS ALL A BIG LIE. When a Council member suggested that Assistant City Administrator John Fournier was involved in a scheme to fire Crawford, Fournier sent her an email admitting he had reviewed the memo and had it forwarded to the City Council. But he denied the memo had anything to do with Crawford's conduct.

"In addition, the Council did not ask staff to opine on whether Mr. Crawford broke any city policies or whether he should be terminated. It asked what policies staff would normally review in a case where there are allegations of protected class inappropriate comments or conduct, and what the normal process would be for investigating and determining a response from the city. At no point did the memo recommend termination for Mr. Crawford, nor did it provide an analysis of Mr. Crawford's specific situation, nor did it mention Mr. Crawford at all. The question was asked what our policies are and what our normal processes are in cases like this, and we are required to answer truthfully and accurately."

Postema knew that the memo did not recommend immediate termination of Crawford. He authored or coauthored the memo. Taylor also knew that. He requested the memo. But both remained silent as Council members stressed the importance of the memo as the reason for voting to terminate Crawford.

Crawford did not fight the discharge. He signed an employment termination agreement that didn't even provide for the severance pay to which he was entitled. By the agreement, Crawford waived any right to sue the City or its officers. After executing the termination agreement, he sent a gracious memo to the Council wishing the City good luck.                        

That did not dissuade those who had actively sought to destroy Crawford's reputation from continuing the effort. On August 23, 2021, Salvatore, Acting City Administrator Founier and City Attorney Postema signed an agreement authorizing payment of up to $23,000 for further investigating Crawford. If there was a public purpose in trying to dig up dirt on a man no longer employed by the City, It was not apparent.  Had there been complaints regarding discriminatory employment practices, the matter could have been reviewed  by the City's Human Relations Commission. But there were no complaints.

In a confidential report submitted to the City Attorney, Jennifer Salvatore said she conducted at least sixteen interviews including one of Tom Crawford. The first report accused Crawford of making insensitive comments, not yet a crime in this country. The second report recklessly accused Crawford of actions which would violate state and federal law and the employment discrimination ban in the City Code.

Based on those 17 interviews, Salvatore came up with two accusations of discriminatory employment practices. In one case, the report said that, while chief financial officer, Crawford supported the hiring of a male candidate instead of a woman. Crawford had backed the hiring of a woman who a panel had ranked the top choice. When that didn't work out because of a salary issue, he supported the hiring of a male candidate instead of a woman who the panel. An advisory panel may help in the hiring process, but the final decision is by the head of the administrative unit.

The report's other accusation of illegal discriminatory employment practices was with regard to the same instance regarding the HR director in which Crawford reportedly urged caution in the hiring of minorities. In making the accusation regarding that incident, the second report simply ignores a previous finding no evidence of violating anti discrimination policies. The accusation is that Crawford delayed the approval of fringe benefits for a Hispanic employee. However, a full analysis of the situation revealed that the treatment of the employee was no different from the treatment of other similarly situated employees.

Even if one assumes that other employees were more favorably treated, that does not justify an accusation of illegal discrimination. There has to be evidence that the different treatment resulted from improper bias. The second report found nothing regarding that bias. It just refers to the comments which Salvatore previously said did not provide evidence of discrimination. She changed her mind and concluded Crawford was a bigot. So his employment decisions were tainted.

To have even approached something that could have been described as professional service, a report would have needed citation to the ample body of law regarding evidence of discrimination.  For example, see the Justice Department standards reported at
https://www.justice.gov/crt/fcs/T6Manual7
Subjected to those standards a court would find the report to be frivolous and unprofessional.

Had the City Attorney kept the second report confidential, no further damage would have been done. But he gave it to Mayor Taylor who then sponsored a resolution to make the report public. The resolution passed and the report was released to news media. Despite 27 redactions, the released copy can be read to conclude that Crawford engaged in illegal employment practices.

An MLive headline read "Investigation report details gender-bias concerns about ex-Ann Arbor administrator." A newspaper reported: Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he supports the conclusions from the report, and explained the city attorney was in close contact with Salvatore for the duration of the investigation. He also said that while the city attorney may not agree with the conclusions made by the external investigator, the attorney did verify the facts presented in the report."It's my belief that this document is indeed entirely accurate, that there are no discrepancies in it," Taylor said.
https://www.michigandaily.com/news/city-council-discusses-request-for-outside-legal-opinion-on-possible-discrepancies-in-report-on-former-city-administrator/

In his effort to fire Crawford, Taylor had no need to try to show Crawford guilty of misconduct. Crawford could have been terminated on "general principals." But that would have required nine months of severance payments. And Taylor would have needed to get Council members to approve the firing without any good reasons. After he got Crawford to resign, Taylor went through a further process that would make it difficult for Crawford to get employment appropriate to his long experience with the City of Ann Arbor. An April 8, 2022 letter from Crawford's attorney to the Interim City Attorney fully documents the complete failure of attorney Jennifer Salvatore to properly review the Crawford situation.

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/12/ann-arbor-is-one-of-michigans-great-cities-so-why-is-its-government-such-a-mess.html

Bruce Laidlaw

Send comments to rblaw@umich.edu