Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 8, 2014

Editorial: City must adopt open system of evaluations

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ... you know the rest.

So if evaluations of two of Traverse City’s top employees aren’t officially written down they don’t count and don’t need to be made public?

And can those doing the evaluations — mostly elected officials who are supposed to be answerable to voters — remain anonymous if they choose to?

Says who?

City commissioners conducted behind-the-scenes evaluations of first-year City Manager Jered Ottenwess and City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht 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.

Feel free to substitute the words “improper” or “illicit” for “unsanctioned” as you see fit; they all mean pretty much the same thing — in this case, something done under the radar with the intent, or at least the effect, of keeping the public in the dark.

Grover met with some city staff and each city 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, Ottenwess and Trible-Laucht.

She has followed a similar anonymous-comment process for the last eight years.

Written evaluations are public documents, but Estes said he doesn’t consider the latest round of anonymous comments official evaluations because commissioners never authorized the process.

Wow. So if they’re not official evaluations and the comments are anonymous and were given to the city manager’s office (for editing?) first — that’s a conspiracy theorist’s worst — or best — nightmare.

The whole thing stinks. The city commission officially hires both the city manager and the city attorney, which means they’re both directly accountable to the commission. But commissioners’ opinions about the job their two employees are doing — the city manager in particular — aren’t on the record for voters to see.

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