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.