TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners conducted a behind-the-scenes evaluation of their first-year city manager under a process they never approved.
Mayor Michael Estes called the process of private interviews between commissioners and consultant Mary Grover an "unsanctioned" evaluation process because commissioners did not discuss or authorize the process before it occurred.
Evaluations of City Manager Jered Ottenwess and City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht followed the same process commissioners have used on other occasions, but the current commission has three new members who never reviewed that process.
"No one asked us how to handle it and we sort of just launched into it," said Ross Richardson, one of the three new commissioners. "We only have two employees we hire, and since they are our employees there has to be a discussion that this is the process we want or not."
Commissioners are scheduled to conduct the evaluations when they meet on today at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.
Grover met with select staff and each commissioner privately and interviewed them about Ottenwess' and Trible-Laucht's performances. She assembled commissioners' anonymous comments in a document the city manager's office then provided to commissioners and their two employees. She's followed a similar anonymous-comment process for the last eight years.
"As I've pointed out, anyone can claim any comment they made," Grover said.
Ottenwess, who contacted Grover for the evaluations, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Estes said commissioners' comments generally were positive, but declined to share the document prior to Monday's meeting. Written evaluations are public documents, but Estes said he doesn't consider them official evaluations because commissioners never authorized the process.
"They could reject it and decide to throw the whole thing out," Estes said.
Estes expects the commission to decide whether they want to continue using an anonymous interview process prior to discussing the two evaluations.
"If people want to continue doing the evaluation in private, that will be the commission's decision," Estes said. "I don't have any problem with doing my evaluation in public, but apparently some commissioners want it done in confidence."