Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 6, 2013

Top county official evaluated by board

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County commissioners saved some of their most critical words for each other during an annual evaluation of the county’s top employee.

One respondent called the 2014 commission “a good Board of Commissioners” but others did not share that take, according to unattributed evaluation results compiled by Mary Grover, a consultant hired to interview each commissioner about county Administrator Dave Benda’s performance.

“A more prevalent view is that ‘this isn’t a high-functioning (board),’ ‘the (board) is not a team’ and ‘the Administrator gives the (board) better leadership than the (board) gives him,’” a report by Grover states.

Commission Chair Herb Lemcool said he would have disagreed with that analysis before commissioners began the 2014 budget process. Now he’s not so sure.

“During this budget process it seems we’re coming from all different directions,” Lemcool said of board members. “It’s creating a challenge for the staff and administration to see what direction they need to go in.”

Much of the criticism levied against Benda in the evaluation stemmed from the 2014 budget. Some commissioners said they did not have enough time to “absorb and understand” the budget and proposed solutions to a $1.5 million deficit, the report states.

Benda could not be reached for comment.

Commissioner Sonny Wheelock didn’t blame Benda for the slow start to the budget process and subsequent time strain to finalize the budget before year’s end. The process was waylaid by delays to projected employee health insurance costs from the county’s insurance provider.

Wheelock during a committee meeting Wednesday made a motion to state Benda’s annual performance exceeded the requirements of his contract. The motion was approved in a 6-to-1 vote.

Commissioner Christine Maxbauer cast the lone no-vote Wednesday night, but Commissioner Dan Lathrop said Thursday morning he wished he’d voted differently.

“When we say he exceeded expectations that means A+ to me,” Lathrop said. “I think it was more like a C.”

Lathrop said he did not see Grover’s evaluation report until shortly before the vote on Benda’s performance. He said board members are often asked to cast important votes with little time to process last-minute information.

“The first I saw of it was last night at the meeting,” Lathrop said. “Then all the sudden as usual I was pressed into making a decision about (Benda).”

Benda was praised in other parts of the unattributed evaluation report for being “organized”, “experienced” and “committed.”

“He’s doing a fabulous job,” the report states.