City Manager Jon Roberts smiles Tuesday night after surviving a contentious 40-minute performance review. Council member Walter Magill started the review with a call to fire Roberts. Council member Sonja Macys, right, and Kenny Reisman also expressed serious concern about the city manager's leadership.

Photo by Scott Franz

City Manager Jon Roberts smiles Tuesday night after surviving a contentious 40-minute performance review. Council member Walter Magill started the review with a call to fire Roberts. Council member Sonja Macys, right, and Kenny Reisman also expressed serious concern about the city manager's leadership.

Steamboat City Manager Jon Roberts' job safe, for now

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Should Jon Roberts remain as Steamboat's city manager?

  • Yes 32%
  • No 42%
  • I don't know enough about his performance 26%

454 total votes.

— Jon Roberts survived a bruising 40-minute performance review Tuesday night that started when a Steamboat Springs City Council member said he wanted the city manager fired.

Roberts’ future as city manager was put in question just before Tuesday’s meeting, when an agenda item to discuss his performance in executive session was added to the council’s slate at the request of member Walter Magill.

Roberts, city staff and the audience at Centennial Hall listened as three City Council members criticized Roberts’ management style, his level of communication with the council and city staff and his involvement in the community.

But it soon became apparent there weren’t enough votes to terminate Roberts’ employment, which led to a unanimous decision to instead discuss his job description and expectations at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting. Even Magill eventually said he was willing to give Roberts a chance to improve.

So it was that the city manager who was hired in February 2009 left the meeting with both his job and a chance to address the concerns of the council members who criticized him.

“When I chose to get into city management, I was mentored so that I was fully aware that a city manager is a little unique,” Roberts said after the meeting. “I recognized that when I got into this profession, this (criticism) comes with the territory.”

The seven elected council members ultimately agreed they need to do a better job of laying out what they expect from their city’s top employee, a task they hope to accomplish Sept. 4.

Magill began the discussion by questioning Roberts’ communication with the council, the community and city staff.

“I’d say we have leadership issues. We have communication issues. We have collaboration issues,” Magill said.

Magill further criticized Roberts for taking frequent vacations and not sending council members enough emails about city issues, including the recent hiring of a public works director.

Magill’s concerns about Roberts were joined by similar criticisms from council members Sonja Macys and Kenny Reisman. Macys said Roberts undermined the city’s efforts to secure pay raises for its employees and that he has harbored a morale problem among city staff. Reisman said there was a “disconnect” between Roberts and the community.

Other council members disagreed with the criticisms, as did Public Safety Director Joel Rae, who heads the police and fire departments.

Rae said his boss has attended numerous fire and police department meetings in the past six weeks and is responsive to their needs.

Council President Bart Kounovsky and council members Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller similarly defended the city manager and said they wanted him to continue in his role.

“I still feel that Jon’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses,” Myller said. “I think we can work through some of the issues we’ve seen recently.”

Hermacinski lauded Roberts’ leadership of the city during difficult economic times and criticized some of her fellow council members for what she described as micromanagement.

Council member Kevin Kaminski then steered the council toward a compromise.

While he acknowledged that he also had some concerns about Roberts’ leadership, Kaminski said he didn’t think it was fair to fire Roberts without giving him clear expectations and a chance to correct the issues council members raised about his performance.

“We’re firing a bullet without him knowing,” Kaminski said. “(Roberts) has got to know what he’s done and have the ability to remedy (this) situation.”

Minutes earlier, Kaminski asked Roberts if he wanted to keep his job.

“Yes, I would like to keep my job,” Roberts said. “I’m still enthusiastic about it.”

He said he was hired to fix a fiscal calamity, and while that task has been “challenging and daunting,” he said the city has made headway.

“We have a good team and I’m proud of how this city has responded to this fiscal calamity,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting started with Magill’s motion to have the discussion about Roberts take place in executive session. But it fizzled after Hermacinski read a statement condemning the use of executive session.

“Since November 2007, the council has consistently chosen the path of transparency and it has made progress in limiting the use of executive sessions,” she said. “Jon’s hiring process was conducted in the same spirit. His hiring was the first time that the Steamboat Springs City Council conducted the final round of hearings in public session. We should continue to act in the same spirit when discussing Mr. Roberts’ contract tonight.”

The council then agreed to discuss Roberts contract publicly at the end of the meeting. Roberts did not object, saying he deferred to the “collective wisdom of the council.”

Before she criticized Roberts during the performance review, Macys said she was disappointed the discussion was happening publicly. She added that the council had been discussing concerns about Roberts’ performance since “about a month ago.”

“To me this is surprising and awkward that we’re having a public session about this,” Macys said. “I think there was every opportunity for this issue to be discussed quietly. Since about a month ago these conversations have been happening certainly with this council and the city manager. Just because the newspaper has not published it or has not picked up on it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening.”

Tuesday night was the first public discussion about Roberts’ performance. Roberts had a performance review May 1 but it was not announced and was conducted entirely in executive session. He makes $153,000 a year plus a benefits package worth between $30,000 and $35,000 a year. Roberts’ base salary is 10 percent less than it was when he was hired, a result of the furloughs put in place for nearly all city employees during the economic recession.

He said Tuesday he was happy to retain his job but was still in a state of uncertainty.

“I think that I’m still in a wait-and-see mode, because I have to wait and see what kind of changes to my contract (and job description) they are going to propose,” he said.

In the short term, Roberts said he plans to double down on his efforts to better communicate with the council but that they would have to meet him halfway.

“It’s not a one-way street,” he said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

To have this kind of discussion in a public meeting is embarrassing and reeks of small town politics at its worse! What the heck is up with the current Council? Will they go the way of Congress and be so divisive that nothing of import gets done? Petty, petty, petty!!

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Brent Boyer 2 years, 1 month ago

I'll have to disagree with you on this one, Cindy. Tonight's discussion underscored the division on council in both its direction as well as how its members view the position of city manager. I think that's a discussion residents deserve to hear. Airing those concerns in public may be awkward and uncomfortable, but that's part of the deal when you decide to be an elected official. It was one of the most honest and candid discussions I've heard from public officials in a long time. I applaud the council for having that discussion, and City Manager Jon Roberts for allowing it to take place. I hope council members left tonight's meeting realizing that open, transparent discussions are not only important, but that any short-term pain or awkwardness is outweighed by the gains in public trust through transparency and accountability.

Brent

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Was Mr. Roberts aware this public "airing" was coming prior to the meeting? Can you imagine this happening in a private company? Mr. Roberts is not the elected official. Disagreements are to be expected on visions for the City by the elected Council, but IMHO personnel issues deserve some privacy. Can we expect other employees of the City to be called out in future meetings if Council becomes disgruntled? We need a Mayor!

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Brent Boyer 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, Jon was aware of his performance being an agenda item for Tuesday's meeting. And when pressed by the council's attorney on whether he was OK with the discussion happening in public, Roberts left it up to the council to decide how to proceed. I agree that personnel issues generally deserve some level of privacy. But I think it's fair to have different expectations/standards for the city manager, who essentially is the CEO of the city and the lone employee of the council. As for a mayor, you're certainly not alone in that sentiment. I've heard that issue mentioned a couple of times by community members in the past week.

Brent

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John Weibel 2 years, 1 month ago

Where are they hoping Roberts to lead? The community went all in on airline discounts. He has done a good job in leading people to see how they can cut waste from what I heard.

His leadership brought about a budget that is in the black - even when saddled with debt from iron horse. Either he led or was led into the purchase of Orten's property - which may turn out to have been a bad idea.

Yes their is some attrition however when one looks at the facts the town turns over a lot of people in general. So maybe the attrition of city employees is no different than elsewhere or any company in steamboat. It might be that some are leaving and better people are coming in. Who knows time will tell - though the quality of the most recent hire seems good - he might also help in bringing about a different culture. Heck any resident homeowner, in town has seen their perceived wealth fall in the recent past because of the housing market. That may also play into "brain drain" though with 10+%unemployment those voids might just be filled by people who understand that the whole country is needing to tighten its belt.

Robert's leadership has also helped to get acz to invest more here and he sees the need to grow the community through private enterprise. Government is not going to solve the communities woes even though many in government believe it can.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

It seems to all have come about from his willingness to advise against breaking the budget to give employee raises. None of the city council had issues with him prior to that and now suddenly it is worth considering firing him.

Since the employee raises is so divided then how about putting it on the November ballot?

Cindy, It should be the city manager's choice whether the job evaluation is held publicly or in private. Far easier to get railroaded in a private meeting than in public.

The last thing this city needs is a mayor. That would become a full time paid position with staff. And this town votes far more on personality than political viewpoints and so a mayor could very easily be of a completely different viewpoint than the rest of the city council. So then we would have three way fights between the city council, the mayor and the city manager. Even Steamboat lacks the revenues to deal with that resulting waste of tax dollars.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

If we elected a Mayor, Scott, there would be no City Manager.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Well, I see no reason to believe an elected mayor to be any more effective at running the city than a city manager.

And I think it was great that they had this discussion in public. One of the most important responsibilities of an elected board is their oversight of the city manager. And yet it is normally done in closed meetings so the public has no information on how their elected officials are handling one of their most important duties.

I also note that every single city council member was elected to office based upon their personal resume and none ran based upon a specific legislative agenda. Thus, they were all elected based upon having good judgment. Thus, please demonstrate that good judgment and work it out.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 1 month ago

Fire him, waste a whole bunch of taxpayers dollars on a big search, pay moving expenses for the new guy, give him a tax free loan to buy a house and more expenses ad nauseum. Then in a couple years you will have a new city council and you can do the whole fiasco again. That is the way small town government works and you will be operating just like the school board. Might have to increase the sales tax again.

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rhys jones 2 years, 1 month ago

I wouldn't bring any green bananas to work with me if I were you, Jon.

Just like in the military or any large organization -- it's the finger-pointers who are most suspect.

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