Ann Arbor council votes to end city administrator's contract
The Ann Arbor City Council has voted to terminate the employment contract for the city’s administrator without cause.
Howard Lazarus, who started his position in 2016, is slated to remain on the job through Feb. 29.
The separation and release agreement the council approved 7-4 during a meeting Tuesday night calls for him to receive $223,600 severance pay, which equals one year's salary, as well as unused sick and vacation time.
Before the council voted, several members said they would not publicly discuss details.
"The separation agreement is really the culmination of a very long discussion that we have had that really began shortly after we learned that the city administrator did not get the job he had applied for" in another city, councilman Jack Eaton said before the vote. "In the negotiation of the settlement agreement, the city administrator has asked that we not discuss the details of the reason why we’re seeking the separation."
He added: "While the council is concluding his employment without cause under the contract, it’s mostly because we don’t wish to state those causes and we don’t wish to engage in prolonged litigation over whether or not cause existed. So it’s really of mutual benefit to the city administrator and the city to conclude this through negotiation rather than acrimony and litigation."
In an interview shortly after voting against the resolution approving the agreement, Mayor Christopher Taylor described the move as a "political termination" and called Lazarus "a man of tremendous ability and integrity."
"He understands the rule of command. The council adopts policies and plans. He follows them," Taylor told The Detroit News. "The council members who moved to terminate him pressured him to ignore those …policies. He is a public servant of integrity and declined to do so."
Council members did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the vote.
Reached Wednesday, Lazarus told The Detroit News in an email that the council's action "is their right by a majority vote under the City Charter."
"The termination was not for any stated cause," he said. "I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve the Ann Arbor community, and to work with the most amazing city staff."
In a speech before the council approved the termination, Lazarus acknowledged that his tenure was "certainly not without challenge."
He went on to say: "You have the most amazing city staff who have dedicated their lives to the purpose and meaning of public service. They operate in that lane between where we are now and where we aspire to be. That path is often rocky and sometimes disruptive and … the journey at times winds up in places that we don’t expect."
Before her vote, Councilwoman Jane Lumm thanked Lazarus for his service but said she had "come to the conclusion and belief that the interests of the city are served by a change in leadership and a new direction. And in my view, I don't think that the current relationship between ourselves and the city administrators are what they should be."
Others, including the mayor, expressed disappointment.
"I do have concerns about what this means for us as a council, what this means for us as a city and for our staff to be able to follow through on priorities moving forward," Julie Grand, who represents Ward 3, told her colleagues before voting no.
As Grand made her remarks, a woman in the audience shouted that the council's conduct was unconscionable and their decision should have followed an open hearing.
Councilwoman Kathy Griswold said it would be inappropriate to disclose more in public. "That’s not how human resource issues are handled."
Taylor said there are plans to turn to a search firm to find candidates to replace Lazarus.