Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Ann Arbor HR Director Files Formal Complaint Against Acting City Administrator

Ann Arbor HR Director Files Formal Complaint Against Acting City Administrator

Ann Arbor officials are discussing launching an independent investigation into allegations against Acting City Administrator John Fournier.

Fournier has created a hostile work environment, Tom Guajardo, the city’s human resources director, alleged in a complaint to City Council on Friday, Oct. 1.

“I am writing to you today to make a formal complaint of harassment and retaliation against Mr. John Fournier, since employees do not have a formal system to lodge complaints against the top leadership position of the city,” Guajardo wrote in an email to council members obtained by The Ann Arbor News/MLive.

“Mr. Fournier and I have had a contentious relationship since the on-boarding of my employment and things have increasingly gotten worse since he has become the interim city administrator. I have warned him on several occasions that I would eventually bring my complaints to you and the city council if he continued his blatant discrimination against me.”

Fournier declined to discuss the accusations, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate at this point and he wants to respect the city’s process.

“However, I do not believe the accusations will be considered credible once they are examined,” he said.

Guajardo alleged Fournier is “attempting to set me up for failure by giving me written instructions to violate the law — specifically as it relates to employment standards with the city.”

“Today after further retaliation of me not following his illegal directives, he continued attacks against me,” Guajardo wrote. “I have put Mr. Fournier on official notice that his behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable and asked him to cease and desist.”

Guajardo did not outline specific instances or directives he considers illegal, but Fournier stated in an email last week the city would continue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees despite a new state law against such mandates.

The Legislature included boilerplate language “that attempts to invalidate local government vaccine mandates like ours,” Fournier wrote. “However, we believe this language may not survive legal scrutiny — and even if it does, we would still have flexibility to implement a vaccine mandate in some form.”

City Council approved a resolution last week in support of a vaccine mandate and asked the city attorney for legal advice.

Guajardo did not respond to requests for further comment, but members of the Council Administration Committee said they’re reviewing his complaint and considering next steps. The city’s typical process is to hire an outside attorney to independently investigate.

Council Member Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward, said she’s hesitant to say much at this point, but she’s taking the allegations seriously and wants a full vetting.

“Based on past practice, yes, we definitely need an independent evaluation,” she said, adding she hopes City Council can discuss the issue in closed session Monday night.

Council Member Ali Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, said he’s waiting on advice from the city attorney, but he also thinks there needs to be an independent investigation.

“I’m just shocked,” he said, expressing concerns city hall is “a very unstable organization.”

The city needs to take a broader look at the workplace culture, Ramlawi maintains.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s generally fire,” he said. “It’s very concerning and troubling that our city is in this position and I think our residents deserve better.”

Mayor Christopher Taylor declined to comment.

“It’s an internal personnel matter and so, until it’s resolved, I have no comment,” he said.

Council Members Jen Eyer and Julie Grand, who also serve on the Council Administration Committee, declined to comment.

“It would be entirely inappropriate for any council member to comment at this time,” said Eyer, D-4th Ward.

Guajardo said in his complaint he has shared his concerns with City Attorney Stephen Postema and he wants council to instruct Postema to intervene and launch an investigation.

“Mr. Fournier’s unchecked and continued inappropriate behavior is now in the arena of a hostile work environment and this is causing me a great deal of stress and angst,” Guajardo wrote.

Postema declined to comment.

If the city launches an independent investigation, it will be the latest in a string of such probes involving some of city hall’s highest-ranking leaders in recent years.

Fournier, the assistant city administrator, stepped in as acting city administrator recently after City Administrator Tom Crawford resigned following an independent investigation into offensive remarks he was accused of making.

Guajardo was hired as the city’s HR director in January after the previous director resigned amid a text scandal that prompted an independent investigation.

Former City Administrator Howard Lazarus, who was fired last year, also was the subject of an independent investigation into his handling of concerns about the former HR director.

Guajardo was given a starting salary of $125,000 when Crawford hired him earlier this year. Fournier recently bumped Guajardo’s salary up to $143,539 as part of a broader set of “pay equity” raises for city employees.

“While Mr. Guajardo is new to the city, he also brings decades of experience as an HR executive,” Fournier wrote in an Aug. 29 memo to City Council, explaining he was elevating Guajardo’s salary to be equal to the IT director’s salary since they’re both in the same pay category and the HR director is “among the more senior and critical unit managers in the city.”

Milton Dohoney was chosen last week to be the city’s new interim city administrator.

Dohoney, whose contract is still being finalized, has decades of experience working in municipal government, including eight years as Cincinnati’s city manager and the last seven years as assistant city manager in Phoenix.