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Posted on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

Ann Arbor City Council chooses Steve Powers for city administrator job; contract to be worked out now

By Ryan J. Stanton

(This story has been updated several times)

The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously tonight to offer the city administrator position to Steve Powers, who was one of two finalists who interviewed last week.

A salary has not been determined yet, but city officials have cited an expected range of $145,000 to $150,000.

While the council's resolution gives the human resources director authority to offer the position to Powers, the appointment is contingent upon the signing of a mutual contract.


Steve Powers

Three council members — Marcia Higgins, Sabra Briere and Christopher Taylor — now have the task of working with the city's human resources director on completing a contract with Powers, who has been the county administrator in Marquette County, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, for the past 15 years.

Powers, a 48-year-old Illinois native, did not attend tonight's meeting, but said he watched the proceedings from his home in Marquette. He spoke with via phone afterward.

"I'm thrilled and humbled by the council's support of me and I am looking forward to serving the city of Ann Arbor," Powers said. "I'm confident that we'll be able to reach terms on my employment and I'm anxious to get started. I'm really excited about the opportunity to help move the organization forward and work for the City Council."

Council members said tonight they thought Ellen Oppenheim, the other finalist for the position, also was well-qualified for the job, but Powers stood out among the two.

"It was clear I think to all of us that Mr. Powers could handle the job," Mayor John Hieftje said. "I think it was very clear that he was a better fit for us here in Ann Arbor and, interestingly, his desirability was confirmed by another government, one in Iowa."

Powers last week was named one of four finalists for the Polk County administrator position in Des Moines, Iowa, where interviews are expected to start later this week. The salary range for the Iowa post is $140,000 to $200,000, according a report on

As for the Iowa job, "That's certainly on the back burner," Powers said. "Ann Arbor is my first priority and is where I'd like to end up."

It hasn't been determined when Powers would start if he takes the job.

Higgins, D-4th Ward and head of the council's search committee that considered nine semi-finalists, cited Powers' familiarity with Michigan, saying he won't have a big learning curve and that he's done "very dynamic things" for Marquette County.

"His background in Michigan certainly was important — working with the state, knowing the state's structure," agreed Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward, another member of the search committee. He noted Powers, though he's spent his career in county government, was trained as a city administrator at the University of Kansas.

Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, said a few things about Powers stood out, including his success in collaborating with others.

"As we look forward, the challenges that Ann Arbor and many of the communities in the state have are to find ways to further collaborate with our regional neighbors — other municipalities, other elected officials — to find ways to share the delivery of services," Hohnke said. "He has a tremendous track record of working with elected peers in doing just that."

Hohnke also said Powers seems to enjoy receiving input from all the sources he can, and those who have known him cite his ability to be fair and consistent.

Briere, D-1st Ward, noted the importance of the decision the council made tonight, saying Powers likely will play a large role in city government for years to come.

"Our city administrators don't leave after two years generally," she said. "They stick around and they affect policy for many years to come — by how they implement our policy decisions and by how they interact with the city and the staff."

Prior to Marquette, Powers served as the county coordinator for Martin County, Minnesota, from 1994 to 1996 and as the assistant county administrator and assistant to county administrator for Jackson County, Oregon, from 1987 to 1994, where he managed human resources, labor relations, risk management and organizational development and training.

He also served as the management and budget analyst for Johnson County, Kansas, from 1986 to 1987.

Powers makes $88,250 at his current position, where he manages a $47 million budget in a county of 67,077 residents.

Ann Arbor has nearly 114,000 residents and a city budget of more than $330 million, though general fund expenditures total $79.1 million.

Diane Keller, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, issued a statement tonight applauding the council's decision.

"In May, the chamber outlined the desired principles to be filled in this position in a letter to the search committee, which found two great candidates," Keller said. "We look forward to working with Mr. Powers to ensure that Ann Arbor remains a dynamic community and a prosperous place to live and work.“

Powers grew up outside of Chicago. He currently serves as a corporate member with the International City/County Management Association; Marquette County ambassador; and as an executive board member for the Lake Superior Community Partnership.

In previous roles, he has served as a board member for the Michigan Local Government Management Association; president of the Michigan Association of County Administrative Officers; board member with the Oregon Local Government Managers Association; board member with the Kansas University City Management Training Program; and as a United Way government division chair.

Powers has a master of public administration from the University of Kansas and a bachelor of arts in public administration and political science from Augustana College.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

Couldn't you guys find a better pic of him than that?! Not a very flattering likeness. Looks like he just had his "be a good boy" interview with Queen Mary Sue Coleman. I wish him well, but he has a pretty thankless job ahead of him.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:37 p.m.

Wow...a reasonable starting salary. If only our school board was as smart.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

I think that is the first time I've seen a comment saying $150,000 is a reasonable starting salary. :) And you're totally correct.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

Congratulations, Mr. Power! Don't let the mayor or U of M push you around! And, Ann, where was this headline this morning?


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 3:57 a.m.

I wonder if it was explained to him that he would have to become a puppet of the university, like the mayor.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

Make sure you get a clause in your contract that will pay you big $$$$ if they fire you for not violating professional ethics Mr Powers. Dont burn that bridge in Iowa without it. Do your homework before signing on the dotted line because you are about to learn a new method of governmental accounting referred to in A2 as the "bucket" system.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

Give credit where credit is due.... Hieftje Claus and his liberal elves did right by the city and the citizens. Congratulations to Mr. Powers....and good luck trying to balance the budget while dealing with people who would rather pay attention to their progressive, liberal agendas.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

Congratulations to Mr. Powers and thanks to City Council. I hope the negotiations go well and Mr. Powers can be brought on-board soon. Unfortunately, we're like to have a few more years of problems before things start picking up again. And when revenues start heading up again, it's likely to be a slog of a recovery. I hope people will keep that in mind when evaluating the new Administrator's performance over the next few years.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:54 a.m.

Why is a contract needed? Just give him a salary and specific benefits. He shoul serve at the discretion of the city council. If he doesn't like that then hire someone else. All these contracts end up costing the city and school board a small fortune when things don't work out where we end up with a lame duck or pay an expensive buy out. Simply state that no contract will be given in the job posting. I can assure you that there is an abundance of qualified people who would be delighted to work under those terms.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

All we ask is you be open and thruthful with us Mr. Powers. Remember you work for us and that $330 million is our money.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Oh and congratulations!