City Manager Evaluation Delayed Again

DeLaney balks at the idea of a $400 an hour consultant to facilitate the evaluation process.

In the David Lynch film “Blue Velvet,” a the veneer of a seemingly lovely little small town in Oregon is pulled away to reveal some very nasty things going on beneath the surface. A seemingly innocuous item on last week’s City Council agenda had the same flavor as the film.

The proposal seemed straightforward enough – hire a consultant for $7,000 to interview the council members and city manager Phil Vince, so the process of evaluating Vince’s performance could finally come to an end. His contract is up in June, and he has not had an evaluation since he started three years ago.

The council has meet a number of times in closed session over the summer to perform the evaluation, but apparently there are some serious bones of contention over one or more issues, because they have yet to agree on an evaluation.

During the last closed session, it was apparently decided to find a facilitator to help the council come to a successful conclusion. But when the time came up at Wednesday’s meeting, it was met with a pretty harsh assessment from Councilwoman Lara DeLaney.

“I think this is a terrible waste of the city’s resources for an activity that can be done by the city council,” she said. “It is done in other cities without a consultant. This is not rocket science. This is not anything new.”

She noted that the cost of the consultant, which comes out to $400 an hour, is “incredibly exorbitant. I don’t know many people in this community who are making $400 an hour, and I’m sure they would like to perform this service if given the opportunity. It’s just a waste of city resources and something we can handle ourselves without outside assistance.”

Councilmember Mark Ross agreed, in a somewhat less strident fashion.
“This seems to be our job,” Ross said. “This could be construed to be at odds with things I’ve said in closed session. Let’s try it on our own. I don’t know that this step is as a grand a step as we need to take. “

Councilmember Mike Menesini said he was “shocked” by the resistance to the idea.

“I thought there was more of a consensus for doing this,” he said. “But that’s fine.”

Mayor Rob Schroder said he was also taken aback by DeLaney’s response.

“I mentioned that I felt a facilitated process was the best way to move forward,” he said.

Vice Mayor Janet Kennedy said the council had received a list of proposed facilitators. DeLaney said she never saw the list.

In the end, the council agreed to put the item back on the November 2 council agenda for further discussion.

But you can bet that there will be many one on one discussions prior to that meeting.

First, it was clear that the council was uncomfortable discussing the issue in open session. Personnel evaluations are supposed to take place behind closed doors. The fact that the council cannot come to an agreement on Vince’s evaluation points to some serious problems with at least one, if not more council members, on his performance.

These are hard times to be a city manager. The city cut the budget again this year, losing even more top level administrators, including the planning manager, who was cut to part time until June, when the position will be eliminated. This means the same level of service is supposed to be provided by even fewer employees. At some point, service suffers. When it does, the council gets the heat from the public. They put that heat on staff.

The issues on the table could be any number of things – the marina, the lack of a redevelopment agency, downtown’s struggles. These are conversations between the council and Vince, and as the public, we’re not privy to them.

But it’s fair to speculate that there are some real problems among the council members right now. In these trying times, if the council and city manager are not working together, things are not working. Without a good relationship among the policy makers and the policy implementer, things tend to stay static.

And stasis, in this point in time, is not in the best interests of the people of Martinez.

Let’s hope that the communication improves, that the ideas keep flowing, and that the council and city manager can get past this road block and back to the task at hand, which is running this great city of ours. 

Carolyn Hill October 24, 2011 at 10:42 PM
OMG. Considering yet another consultant is absurd! 3 years with no performance review is an absolute example of continuing bad management by the council Everyone except Delaney is a coward.THEY need to take responsibility for their duties. We should not spend the $.
Linda Meza October 25, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Agreed on the length of time to write a performance review. Gak! How we hated them at Northrop, but we did them (even had to write up our own and compare against our supervisor's) every year. It was mandatory. There was a small consultancy firm in San Rafael, Human Factors, that produced 360 degree top down profiles. I was the EA to one of the founding principals and as part of my role I filled out a survey. I then helped compile reports for two of the bay area's fortune 500 companies and provided support at one offsite. A real 360 profile should be about raw data and a lot of really raw feelings. I was pleased to see one of the companies go through the entire process for one of their business units (Sales and Marketing) and after additional coaching they were able to turn their dysfunctional way of dealing with each other into a cohesive unit. It wasn't pretty but it was effective and in the end, profitable. The problem, as I see it, is there is no true top down element to this evaluation so I have to wonder how effective this particular tool would have been. As Jim notes in his opinion there could be relational dysfunctions we (voters/taxpayers) aren't aware of. If all this will end up being is a review of stated goals and whether they've been met, save the money. I trust our council is capable of reading a gantt chart.
Sally Morgan October 25, 2011 at 01:36 AM
If the City Council are not qualified to supervise and evaluate staff without help, then they should not be in a their positions. Perhaps it is time we develop requirements and qualifications for all who wish to run for the City Counci to make sure we have competent and experienced people who know how to supervise and evaluate...instead of paying other people to do their job...at the tax payers' expense ! Since these Council members essentially perform many of the same functions as a large business, we should have qualifications for those in decision making positions. If someone wishes to run for this office, they should be required to take a course in finance, supervision and evaluation, problem solving, interpersonal dynamic and administration of a City before they can run. ..instead of trying to make it up as it goes along .
maria Billingsley October 25, 2011 at 03:24 PM
It appears that there are drastically different evaluations coming from the five council members. So much so, that it is causing conflict. So when two sides can not agree on a subject matter, a mediator is needed to help. That is what I see and believe should take place. I;m for a mediator, if they can't manage to have a review in three years what make us think they can do it now?
Carolyn Hill October 25, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Very good idea Sally
Lawrence Risner October 25, 2011 at 05:07 PM
Paying $500'000/yr for a city manager & an assistant for a small town seems a little extreme especially when there isn't enough revenue to support all vital services. Then to throw in the inability to adaquately evaluate their performance by those who are in the position to monitor their preformance is cause for failure in the private sector. I agree that there should be required qualifications for all in government positions - local, state and national levels. Selling the voters with personality as one's qualification for a job is a mistake.
Carolyn Hill October 25, 2011 at 05:34 PM
At least 3-4 current council members have long time tenure, were evaluations done In the past? Probably just rubber stamped. The good 'ole boy/gal network at best.
Patrick J. McNamara October 25, 2011 at 06:07 PM
There may be two sides to the evaluation of the city manager, but there is almost always two sides to any agenda item on which the council must decide. That is why there is always an odd number of council members (or Supreme Courts Justices, for that matter) so that when a vote is taken, a majority will prevail and business can be done. It shouldn't be a surprise that council members are not unanimous in their assessment. Yet, as in many other issues on which they must act, a vote can be taken and a majority can emerge. They can't be afraid to hurt the feelings of their colleagues who may not prevail. Lara DeLaney is absolutely right in my opinion.
maria Billingsley October 25, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Well I think the evaluator will probably have some interesting things to say. Like "your paying too much for that position" etc...remember Martinez was singled out by the Grand Jury on several related issues.. paying $7000 to possibly save many thousands more sounds like a good deal to me..
Carolyn Duncan October 25, 2011 at 10:02 PM
There are different levels of facilitation. I know, I am a Facilitator. The fact that the Council wants to hire someone to speak to each of them individually, not collectively, and help come to resolution is very concerning. It shows an inability of our Council to collaborate. I don't necessarily have a problem with hiring someone to help,within reason, but $7000.? Are you kidding? Pay someone that much for a job that the Council should be responsible for as part of their duties? There are differences of opinion I am sure, but basic HR Practice says you never let people go without a timely review, how else do you monitor performance and hold people accountable?. The loser here is our City Manager, who deserved more direction and formal feedback from his "bosses" and the citizens of Martinez, who assume that their elected officials are supervising the day to day business of our city. I believe this shows that more close attention needs to be paid to the lack of good business practice our City has been plagued with for years. I am not into cheap shots or disrespecting the people who hold these Council seats. I am just tired of us going nowhere, and spending a lot of money to do it..
Sally Morgan October 26, 2011 at 01:03 AM
I agree what has been said. It is neither s cheap shot nor disrespect to point out the obvious. Nor is it wrong to speak the truth. It is disrespectful of the hard working citizens of Martinez to waste money on consultants or facilitators because the Council can't make hard decisions
Dick Duncan November 06, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Thank you for alerting us to another possible problem here in "River City". The previous comments pretty well sum up the situation. If it weren't for DeLaney, having the courage and good old common sense to question the matter at hand these things would get "rubber stamped" with no discussion regarding justification or responsibility. The problem is that the voters of our fair City don't seem to be paying attention when electing these people. Interesting quote from a NY City Blog "Do not look for "the best and the brightest" among politicians, generally glad handing, expedient, mediocre nincompoops who managed to talk a couple of deep pockets into funding their campaigns. The 24-7-365 news cycle of the Internets reveals in greater detail what was always apparent: that we are being led by nitwits". "In the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king".


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