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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009 10 years ago

My view

by: Sandy Gilbert

It’s that time of year again when the town commissioners are expected to submit their annual evaluations of Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, which they will do at the Thursday, Nov. 19 regular workshop.

This is not an exercise they particularly like to undertake. First, St. Denis’ evaluation is not done in private. As a municipal government employee, his evaluation is part of the public record, with the resulting ratings and comments well known to all his employees and virtually everyone in town. This transparency can cause commissioners to be far less critical than they would be if the proceedings were private.

History also has shown these evaluations too often have produced cursory assessments of the town manager’s performance that were of little value to him or to the town.

The second element inherent in the governmental evaluation process that concerns some commissioners is the follow-up comments in the press. Some commissioners complain the media often overreact to their evaluations with either charges they are “too hard” on the town manager or “out to get him” or, on the contrary, they are “too soft,” overlooking obvious shortcomings. Add the fact we are entering an election year, and the specter of some non-committal evaluations is a real possibility.

Better evaluations needed
Whatever the commissioners do, they must do a better job than was done last year.

Two commissioners, Hal Lenobel and Mayor Lee Rothenberg, gave the town manager “5s,” or excellent, in nearly all 10 evaluating categories.

Talk with any human-resource professional, and he will tell you you’ll rarely find an employee who is excellent at every single thing he does.

What’s more, Lenobel and Rothenberg’s reviews came with no explanatory comments or examples of why his work was so outstanding.

But at least Lenobel and Rothenberg submitted an official evaluation. Commissioner Joan Webster submitted a couple of paragraphs with unsupported and vague phrases such as: “He has dealt with a number of major projects and issues this year. Most of these issues have been successfully completed. There are still some issues to be resolved. He is addressing these issues.”

And Commissioner Bob Siekmann didn’t even bother to submit an evaluation last year. Asked about it later, he said, and we’re paraphrasing, the town has an “A” town manager who had a “C” year.” When you have an “A” or top performer who slips to a “C,” is this the time to ignore the situation with a no-entry evaluation?

Do the job right
Fortunately, three of our commissioners took the time to do a proper evaluation last year. Commissioners Randy Clair, Peter O’Connor and George Spoll rated the town manager somewhat differently, but their evaluations all had two important elements in common: The numerical rankings were not all the same for every category, and they used short, direct comments explaining and supporting their ratings.

Clair: “The town manager is open and accessible to the commissioners. He is impartial among commissioners. He is receptive to criticism and advice.”

O’Connor: “Staff work exceeds expectations. Outreach to public is well done.”

Spoll: “The town manager … possessing the ability to continue to be successful. However, he often seems to be reluctant to recognize the changing world: the world of greater requirement of oversight and responsibility of boards and indeed the commission … Business as usual is very much less appropriate in these trying times … ”

Straight-forward comments like these are valuable and provide clear direction to focus on specific performance areas.

This year’s evaluations are due next week. Let’s encourage our commissioners to improve on last year’s evaluations and make a concerted effort to evaluate the town manager’s performance and adequately explain their position. The town manager and taxpayers deserve nothing less.

Sandy Gilbert is the former chairman of the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board.

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