Ypsi City Council “The Gang that couldn’t shoot straight”

(November 13, 2006) The Ann Arbor News is reporting that the newly chosen Ypsilanti City Clerk, Lisa Johnson, was arrested in 2005 for tampering with records. In a story published on Sunday, the Ann Arbor News has learned that Lisa Johnson was arrested last year (2005) in Ohio on charges of tampering with the financial records of a children’s football league. Charges were later dismissed when prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to defense attorneys. According to the Ann Arbor News, the case dismissal is on appeal.

This isn’t the first hiring that was bungled by the city in the past year. There was the sudden resignation of the interim DDA director after she was dumped from the interview process. There was the botched police chief interviews that resulted in the hiring of an outside consultant to address concerns raised by the community. Now the city clerk interview process and hiring has been thrown into turmoil. All three hirings were supervised by Assistant City Manager and Human Resources Director Bob Bruner.

It is not clear why someone that would be entrusted with voter records, hiring election workers, maintaining city records, and posting legal notices, would not have been asked during the interview process, “have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime?”

According to the Ann Arbor News, Bruner said that Ypsilanti conducts background checks only after a candidate is chosen for the job.

The city has spent thousands of dollars trying to hire a new city clerk. They have also expended enormous resources conducting interviews and then holding two public meetings with the entire city council to interview the six finalists.

Perhaps the city’s interview process needs to be changed.

Many organizations, before making the final hiring announcement, conduct a brief background check on the final two or three candidates. That way if a problem arises, the city can still move quickly to select the best candidate. By announcing publicly that the Council has made a final selection before doing background checks, it tells the rest of the candidates they are not wanted. It then puts the city at a disadvantage if the city comes back later to the second candidate and asks the candidate to reconsider.

The second candidate knows the city is now in trouble, needs to quickly get a hire, or risks having to redo the entire hiring process. So the candidate can extract a higher salary or other concessions. It also puts the candidate in a difficult position coming into the new job with everyone knowing they were the second or third choice.

In the Ann Arbor News article, Bruner said “You cannot judge a book by its cover. Just because you lost a job somewhere else, it does not mean that you cannot do a good job here.” Bruner is not saying that simply because someone was fired, they aren’t capable of doing a good job.

However, in this case, Lisa Johnson was not fired. Johnson resigned her current post in September. What has been called into question is her ethics and integrity. Johnson should have disclosed her current legal problems during the interview process and the city should have asked more questions and conducted a background check before making a public announcement on a new hire.

Given the past problems with recruiting new employees to the city, it is hard to see how the current city administration is doing a good job.

Mayor Farmer, immediately following the vote to hire Lisa Johnson on October 31 said, “Now in the unlikely event that the background check turns up something outrageous that we heretofore missed… it sounds like we should look at second choices.”

Rebecca Bintz was the Council’s second choice according to their vote taken by council after interviewing all six candidates. Bintz was the first choice of Councilwoman Lois Richardson. Richardson was the only council member to vote against hiring Johnson.

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