Oak Park Village Manager Cara Pavlicek spoke highly of Oak Park during her interview Thursday evening for the open city administrator position in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“I work right now for a wonderful organization – Oak Park, Illinois,” Pavlicek told the Ann Arbor city council. “I really do absolutely love it but opportunities like Ann Arbor, with its size and complexity, just don’t always come along.”
Pavlicek, who referred to herself as a “process person,” is among four finalists in the running to replace the city’s former city administrator, who was fired last February. All four candidates interviewed virtually with the Ann Arbor city council in different time slots the evening of Aug. 20.
While fielding mostly standard job interview questions, Pavlicek touched on her track record as Oak Park village manager, a position she has held since 2012. She also told the city council how Oak Park has had to adapt to changes in the economy, including the remaking of downtown Oak Park.
“The retail economy changed and communities like Oak Park could no longer have anchor department stores,” said Pavlicek.
Pavlicek said Oak Park has no big box retailers or strip malls. To revitalize the downtown area, the community had to undergo a comprehensive master planning process during which staff worked with many stakeholders.
“As the staff, we’ve got to spend time making that vision a reality in partnership with the private sector, in partnership with elected officials and in partnership with a lot of our community members that believed in the vision of making downtown a livable neighborhood,” said Pavlicek.
She briefed the city council on her time as Oak Park’s parking manager, where she restructured the village’s complex parking fund to reverse the $10 million deficit through revenue freezes, raising hourly rates and budget balancing.
“We did streamline staff through attrition,” Pavlicek said. “We would not replace positions; we would move people into different roles.”
Ann Arbor city council found Pavlicek’s long career in government administration compelling but Pavlicek demurred saying she couldn’t take sole credit for any accomplishments.
“It is such a team sport in city government,” said Pavlicek. “I certainly try to bring forward to the governing body issues that are important and issues that we have to deal with.”
When asked about her communication style, Pavlicek said she has standing half hour one-on-one meetings with her 15 direct reports, including the fire chief, public works manager, city clerk and the chief financial officer.
“Those are really important opportunities for me to hear from the leaders within the organization about the things that they need and then what I can be doing to help support them,” Pavlicek said.
The meetings also allow Pavlicek to get to know her direct reports on a more personal level, which she believes creates a “stronger working environment.”
When it comes to the Oak Park board of trustees, Pavlicek said she believes in a “tell one, tell all” communication strategy.
Pavlicek also told Ann Arbor leaders that she upped her communication with Oak Park citizens during the height of COVID-19 crisis, releasing daily status reports available on the village’s website.
“Because things are a little bit better, we’re doing them three times a week,” said Pavlicek.
To keep employees motivated and inspired, Pavlicek said she encourages people to find the learning opportunities within failures.
“One of the most important things you can do to encourage people to be innovative and excel is to accept failures,” Pavlicek told city council.
She said she also makes herself available for staff members who need a little extra assistance in certain situations and believes the occasional fun activity, such as “snow cone socials,” are wonderful boosts to employee morale.
According to its city council, Ann Arbor prides itself on being a leader in progressive initiatives – a quality not unlike that of Oak Park. Pavlicek shared with city officials some of the progressive initiatives Oak Park has undertaken, including the recent implementation of the “Slow Streets” pilot program.
When asked again for comment on her job interview, Pavlicek told Wednesday Journal she felt it inappropriate to speak on the record about the potential move to Michigan until she knew whether Ann Arbor would invite her back for further interviews.
The city of Ann Arbor released a community survey Aug. 20 for the public to provide feedback regarding the candidates and their interviews. Its city council will decide Aug. 24 the next steps based on the survey results. Potential next steps could include further interviews, determining whom the council should offer the position to or relaunching the search for a new city administrator.