Nearly two years after the city of Ann Arbor’s human resources director resigned amid a text scandal, the city has found a new HR leader.
Tom Guajardo took over as the city’s HR and labor relations director Jan. 25.
One of the top positions in city hall, it comes with a $125,000 annual salary.
“Tom’s breadth and depth in human resources will be an asset to the city of Ann Arbor,” City Administrator Tom Crawford said in a statement, calling Guajardo a great addition to the city’s senior leadership team.
“Tom is well prepared to guide the development of short- and long-term strategies in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, talent, recognition, retention and strategic partnerships within the organization. He also understands the challenges the city has to expand transparency and increase employee trust.”
Guajardo joins the city after nearly two years as regional HR manager for Advance Auto Parts. He previously spent a decade as the HR leader for the Detroit Zoological Society, where officials said he played a key role in transitioning management from the city of Detroit to the society, a nonprofit that operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.
During his tenure there, he developed numerous programs and implemented a diversity, equity and inclusion plan, Ann Arbor officials noted, pointing out Guajardo is a certified diversity professional through the National Diversity Council.
From 2005 to 2009, Guajardo was HR director for Ilitch Holdings Inc., the Ilitch family of companies in Detroit. During that time, officials said he helped lead a number of efforts, including implementation of diversity and inclusion programs for Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings.
The city of Ann Arbor’s commitment to diversity and general health of the workplace culture at city hall was called into question in 2019 when controversial text messages allegedly sent by HR Director Robyn Wilkerson to another city employee came to light. Wilkerson resigned when the city’s administration confronted her about the texts.
She was accused of making inappropriate remarks in texts dating back to 2017 and 2018, including joking about blowing up city hall and wanting to carry a gun to work, along with comments such as “Bragging about promoting a black guy… LOL” and “Like she is from the ghetto or trying to be ghetto?”
Some of the texts, obtained by The Ann Arbor News/MLive via the Freedom of Information Act, showed Wilkerson allegedly criticizing other city leaders, complaining about her job and making remarks about “crazy liberals,” Black Lives Matter protesters and the city’s work to create a police oversight commission.
“I am sure there will be a bunch of BLM bulls—t protests….if they keep acting so dumb, Trump will get 4 more years without even trying….lol,” one of Wilkerson’s alleged texts from October 2017 stated, adding: “I wish I could bring my 9mm, but I would get fired for violating city policy…. wait…hmmmmm?”
After the texts came to light, City Council members called for an independent investigation, which concluded there was little doubt Wilkerson had conflicts with lots of people in many different city departments, but City Administrator Howard Lazarus never saw reason to fire her prior to seeing the texts.
“He knew from the moment he read them that, if authentic, they were inappropriate, offensive, vile, insubordinate, perhaps racist, and a clear basis for termination,” the independent investigation report stated, concluding Lazarus acted appropriately.
City Council voted 7-4 to fire Lazarus several months later without saying much about the reasons due to a non-disparagement clause in his separation agreement.
Assistant City Administrator John Fournier stepped in as interim HR director after Wilkerson resigned.
Guajardo, who brings more than 25 years of HR experience, will now help the city move forward, working under Crawford, whom council chose to take over as city administrator last year.
Guajardo will be responsible for management and direction of city HR programs, including organizational development, benefits, compensation, recruitment, employee development, employee health and wellness, and labor negotiations.
He has a bachelor’s degree in employment and labor relations from Wayne State University and is working on a master’s degree in HR management at Georgetown University with a focus on diversity and inclusion management.
He has a labor relations leader certificate from Michigan State University and an intercultural management certificate from the University of Notre Dame.
Prior to working for Ilitch Holdings, he was an HR manager for ACN Inc. and Heartland By-Products Inc.