Steamboat City Council members: Severance pay warranted for Roberts

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Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts

— Jon Roberts' departure from City Hall was being planned weeks ago.

Less than a month after the Steamboat Springs City Council laid out a new set of goals and scheduled a January performance review for Roberts, the city manager called City Attorney Tony Lettunich in late September to say he was considering stepping down.

Lettunich said Wednesday that Roberts then proposed the terms of his resignation, including the six months of severance pay unanimously approved by the City Council on Tuesday night.

City Council first was presented with the severance proposal during an Oct. 2 executive session.

“It went fairly quickly and fairly easily,” Lettunich said about the negotiations between Roberts and the council.

Roberts said Tuesday night that his resignation was the result of a “personal and professional reflection” that followed the contentious performance review he received in August from the City Council. He said he enjoyed his tenure as city manager and was proud of the accomplishments he and his management team produced in a tough economy.

Because he technically resigned, the City Council was not required to offer Roberts a severance package, but several council members said Tuesday that the severance agreement they approved was the best outcome for both parties.

Council President Bart Kounovsky and council member Cari Hermacinski, who both strongly supported Roberts during the contentious August performance review that threw his future into question, said Wednesday that Roberts' performance during his three years as city manager warranted the severance pay.

“I think that over the three years he was here, we definitely got our money's worth, especially when you look at the structural changes we made on the financial side. It will literally will save the taxpayers millions of dollars,” Hermacinski said.

She also said Roberts “didn't quibble” with council when he took a 10 percent pay cut at the start of his tenure as a result of city staff furloughs he proposed. For that reason, the council didn't need to quibble with Roberts about his request for severance, Hermacinski said.

“I think he has done tremendous things for the city,” she said.

Roberts isn't the first Steamboat Springs city manager to step down after running into problems with some of his council bosses.

Alan Lanning's job was put at risk in July 2008 after he received a poor performance review from his council. Like Roberts, Lanning eventually reached a severance agreement with the council and resigned.

Hermacinski, who was a member of the council that negotiated Lanning's departure, said Roberts' resignation and severance agreement was more straightforward per the terms of his contract.

Other council members, including Roberts' critics, had different reasons for supporting the severance package.

Council member Sonja Macys, who sparred with Roberts during his final weeks as city manager, said she isn't a fan of severance pay.

But she said she thought it was debatable as to whether the city wasn't obligated to pay it and said the agreement reached Tuesday was the best for both sides.

She added the severance was a better option than having Roberts continue to serve until January and, if he were to be fired during his regular performance review, receive the five months of severance guaranteed by his contract.

“I think that Jon resigning and the agreement that was reached was in the best interest of the city,” Macys said. “This is a good agreement for the city and our ability to attract and retain quality people, and it's a good agreement for Jon and his ability to move on.”

City manager search

Macys said Wednesday that she didn't want to talk about any council discussions leading up to Roberts' resignation Tuesday. Instead, she said she was focused on the search for a new city manager.

"I don't want to comment on the past," she said. "Something changed, but that was Jon's driving."

Council quickly appointed Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark to the interim role Tuesday night, and it is expected to begin discussions about filling the position permanently during an Oct. 30 meeting.

Kounovsky said it was too early to say how the search will be conducted. He said he will let history be a guide for how to proceed.

Macys said she already has two desires of the process.

“I personally am not in favor of spending money on a headhunter,” she said. “I think that today, with social media and Internet and the professional networks the city already pays to be a part of, we can recruit applicants without spending a lot of money.”

Macys also said recent community feedback on introducing a mayoral system to replace the city manager has convinced her it at least should be part of the upcoming recruitment discussion.

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

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 2 months ago

“It went fairly quickly and fairly easily,” Lettunich said about the negotiations between Roberts and the council.

So when did those negotiations occur? Where there board meetings with executive sessions for the negotiations? Or were there secret communications and possible COML violations?

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Robert Dippold 2 years, 2 months ago

All I know about this subject is what I read. The following information is derived from what I have read and some assumptions on what I have not read.

In August several City Council members suggested that Roberts should be fired. To my knowledge there was not a professional Performance Review, but maybe some complaints by Council members. The net result of the meeting was that Mr. Roberts was to receive clear goals from the Council and a review would be done at some time in the future.

The course of action the Council took was as follows. 1) Suggest firing the employee 2) Agree upon goals 3) Set Performance Review date in the future.

This is the shooting equivalent of Fire, Aim Ready (no pun intended).

A professional Performance Review includes 2 things. The employees performance against the job description and the written mutually agreed upon goals. If the employee is meeting those two pieces of paper and the job is not getting done then the employer has the wrong job description or the wrong goals, but not the wrong employee. A Performance Review reveals problems with the employee but also problems with the the manager/employer if it is performed correctly. It takes an open-minded manager to get the benefit.

From what I have read, Mr. Roberts excelled at his job description. When mutually agreed upon goals were determined he also excelled. Still, some on the Council were not "happy". That is fine, but "happy" needs to be turned into something meaningful on the job description or on written goals.

I am very supportive of the City Council because I am appreciative of public service. It appears to me that there are some similarities between the firing the Housing Authority Director and the resignation of the City Manager and that has to do with Performance Reviews, Job Descriptions and process. I believe that it may serve all parties if the City Council would do the following. 1) Review the job descriptions and goals for the City Manager before searching and interviewing for the next one. (Other key employees as well) 2) Evaluate the Performance Review process to determine if the Council is executing professional Performance Reviews. If not, seek training on how to do it. Seek training on establishing S-M-A-R-T goals.

Sometimes we lose good employees. Sometimes we have to fire employees due to no fault of our own. I often find that when something doesn't work out with an employee that I have not done as good of a job with the hiring process or Performance Review process that I should have. Again, thanks to the Council members for their service and I apologize if some of my assumptions are incorrect due to incomplete information.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 2 months ago

Robert, You make good suggestions. But I think this result was unavoidable.

Council did make it clear in their comments and in their goals for Roberts that he needed more engagement with the community here.

And Roberts made it clear in his comments and actions that he would continue to spend his free time elsewhere. He made the comment that he preferred to avoid interacting with constituents and engaging with Steamboat's issues outside of working hours.

It seems a mutually established disagreement, only resolvable with Jon's resignation. I wish Jon well, and support his severance package.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 2 months ago

Thank you Today Staff for the clear explanation of the settlement. I believe all parties were well served by this agreement. Thank you to Sonja for trying to save money during the new search and for considering a mayoral form of government. I hope all of the Council members are on board with the search and looking at a new way of governing. We have got to stop the revolving door and expense of City Managers with every new Council. This problem would be solved by the voters electing a Mayor to work with the Council.

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max huppert 2 years, 2 months ago

6 months pay, wow. they dont care its the tax payers money not out of there own pocket

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Harry Thompson 2 years, 2 months ago

You can always put a spin on things to justify your decision or mistake. However this latest fiasco shows just how desperately we need to move to a mayoral system.

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