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Council Withdraws Mid-Year Evaluation of City Manager

Daniel Reese for KUT News
Austin City Manager Marc Ott gets a message from former Chief Financial Officer Leslie Browder in this 2011 photo.

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

It seems that some City Council members were planning on giving City Manager Marc Ott – and perhaps others – a piece of their minds in private Thursday, but due to the absence of Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Mayor Lee Leffingwell was able to at least postpone that confrontation.

The executive session agenda for Thursday included four unusual items, each to do a mid-year evaluation of one of the Council’s appointees: Ott, City Auditor Kenneth Mory, Municipal Court Clerk Rebecca Stark and City Clerk Jannette Goodall.

When the Mayor read the agenda changes Thursday morning, he said the items related to those evaluations would be withdrawn because there was not a full Council.

Cole suffered from a serious but non-life threatening eye injury that caused her to be hospitalized for a short time Thursday, according to her staff. Following her release from the hospital she was advised to stay home and rest, said her aide, Michael McGill.

Council Member Bill Spelman, one of those who put the items on the agenda, asked whether those items might just be postponed until May 1 rather than withdrawn. The Mayor noted that the four appointees are scheduled for their yearly evaluations June 12 and June 26. “The reason I suggested withdrawal is we could just take those items up then,” he said.

Spelman said the withdrawal would be acceptable but indicated he might want to do the evaluations in May anyway.

American Statesman editorial writer Alberta Phillips complained in her blog Thursday that “Traditionally, the council performs evaluations for its senior executives just once a year. As such, evaluations for senior executives are scheduled for June – in about 2 ½ months. And those evaluations, according to Mayor Lee Leffingwell, typically provide performance guidance.”

But this is not an entirely new development. Spelman told the Monitor the following via email: “After our last round of reviews back in August, several of us suggested that it would be a good idea to hold a mid-year "checkup" with all our direct reports. It's good management practice to hold performance discussions with direct reports more often than once a year. Out of fairness and respect to our direct reports, we always hold personnel performance conversations in executive session.

“Although the resolution called for a specific process (filling out evaluation forms in advance, giving the filled out forms to the HR director to collate), I think an informal process made more sense this first time out,” he said.

Noting the legal implications of sharing information with more than two of his colleagues, Spelman added, “As with any agenda item, we couldn't discuss this one with our colleagues in advance.”

Council Member Mike Martinez, who co-sponsored the item with Spelman, also responded to Phillips’ blog: "During the last evaluation we talked about improving the process about evaluating our direct reports we found this evaluation tool that allowed for direct feedback, criticisms, room for improvement. The Council seemed to appreciate that but didn't want to inject it into last year's process, so they said let's do it next year"

"Council Member Spelman reached out to us and said, we'd like to take a look at that form and maybe do a mid-year dry-run and start talking about the evaluation process and trying to improve it. That's where we were today. We put everyone on and everyone was emailed the forms and that's where we are."

Leffingwell said Thursday evening that it while it takes two Council members to put an item on the public meeting agenda, it takes only one Council member to put an item on the executive session agenda. He said he wants to change that. At that point it was not clear exactly which member of members of the Council had requested those items.

The Mayor was clearly irritated over the fact that one or more of his colleagues had put those items on the agenda. Although he and others assume that Ott was the only target of those evaluations, that may not be the case.

Some Council members have privately expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of Mory. But it is probably safe to assume that both Stark and Goodall were not the targets since there has been no rumbling about them from the second floor of City Hall.

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