Person of Interest: Tom Crawford

The newly elected City Administrator, Tom Crawford, wants to help Ann Arbor address four of the major crises the city is facing. We had a chance to sit down and speak with him about what he wants to help Ann Arbor accomplish and some of his personal interests.

Current Magazine (CM): You were unanimously voted to be the new city administrator by the Ann Arbor City Council. How does it feel to see your hard work be acknowledged by the entire council?

Tom Crawford (TC): It’s an honor to have the opportunity to continue serving and work with our great employees in this new role. I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead and believe we have an opportunity to make meaningful progress on the various community goals.

CM: As the new city administrator, what do you feel are some of the biggest issues our community faces and how are you hoping to help improve these issues?

TC: We are in the midst of 4 crises at the same time. It really is unprecedented. A pandemic, the associated economic challenges, social unrest, and a climate emergency. These crises range from having daily, monthly, annual, and long-term (structural) basis effects. Furthermore, there aren’t any easy solutions. Each is going to require planning, commitment, diligence, and persistence to make progress.

Fundamentally, I believe Ann Arbor is resilient because as a community we care about each other and continually strive to improve ourselves and our community. In the short-term, I believe we need to focus on the safety of our residents and employees, and reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Getting to a sustainable and stable situation with the coronavirus will allow us to accelerate our efforts in other areas. 

The Clerk’s Office and many others are helping ensure a credible, safe, and efficient election. Their efforts have been amazing, and I’m happy to say our residents have several safe ways to vote up to and on election day. In the meantime, the city will continue to closely manage & monitor its financial condition to ensure we remain fiscally healthy.

Lastly, the city is moving forward with its climate action plan and its efforts to further nurture an equitable workplace. As we focus on these efforts, I’m looking forward to working with staff, council, and the community to become an even stronger, equitable, and accessible community. 

CM: During your Q&A session, you mentioned wanting to work on Ann Arbor’s affordability. How do you plan to address these issues and make Ann Arbor more affordable than it is now?

TC: Ann Arbor has many reasons for its affordability challenges since it’s a desirable place to live. With that desirability comes the pressure of greater demand to live here, which in turn can make it more expensive. As a community we have choices to make about how we handle these pressures. If we’d like to have a culturally diverse, affordable, and vibrant community, then we’ll need to consider strategies that help address these pressures with integrated plans like transit oriented zoning, development of affordable housing, flexible and diverse transportation systems, and investments to support a sustainable and healthy community. 

There is no silver bullet, but with balanced and thoughtful policymaking, adequate resources, and a commitment to move forward, I believe we can make a real impact.

CM: Ann Arbor is a historically liberal town. However, it has a lot of shortcomings in recognizing its own issues with race because it can be blinded by its own perspective of what racism looks like. In your Q&A session, you mention getting people to “open their eyes” to the issues. How do you plan on getting people to open their eyes to the institutionalized racism that most Ann Arborites don’t notice or don’t normally see?

TC: I think we need to start with the City organization itself. We can do this by ensuring we have a diverse set of voices and views at the table. We can build on that with training which exposes people to the lived perspectives of others, provides opportunities for genuine new relationships to form, and all learn about the impacts from historical decisions and policies. With greater awareness and understanding, we can then evaluate all of our services to find opportunities to reduce institutionalized racism where it exists. 

As the city organization seeks to walk the walk, I think we can partner with others to find ways for the community to be exposed to and share in opportunities of greater awareness. Institutionalized racism was established over many years and it will take time to correct, but it’s a journey we’ve got to stay on to ensure a just and equitable community.

CM: Ann Arbor has some amazing restaurants. What is your favorite, go-to restaurant in the area?

TC: That’s tough, there are so many great places around town. My wife and I try to support locally owned businesses, and during the pandemic, we have been visiting a variety of outdoor places and have seriously enjoyed all of them! 

CM: Although COVID has put a wrench in some of the local activities, where would we have been able to find you on a normal Friday night?

TC: I have two younger children, so at the end of the week, we typically relax with other parents and families that have children our kids’ ages.

CM: What’s a great recent discovery you’ve had? It can be in your position or in your day-to-day life!

TC: It’s not really a discovery, but I’ve gained a renewed appreciation for the small  serendipitous conversations with people. It brings such richness to our everyday lives and is something that has been enjoyable with neighbors albeit not so practical with employees during the pandemic. 

CM: What work are you most looking forward to with your new position?

TC: I’m looking forward to working on the structural issues that need to be adjusted to align with our goals. For example, internally, the hiring of an HR Director will enable the organization to move forward at a faster pace on important initiatives. For the community, I’m looking forward to working on things like accelerating the pace of new affordable housing.

CM: Is there anything you’d like the community to know about you that we haven’t covered yet?

TC: I have an identical twin brother who lives in town as well, so if I’ve met you once but don’t seem to recognize you the next time — it might be because it’s actually my brother. 

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