Our View: New evaluation process is welcome

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Knowing that communication between city managers and city councils has been a point of contention in the past, the current Steamboat Springs City Council made a wise move when it approved a new written evaluation process for the city manager.

Steamboat Today editorial board — May to September 2014

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Tyler Goodman, community representative
  • John Merrill, community representative

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The action was taken at the May 20 City Council meeting following some initial confusion about City Manager Deb Hinsvark’s most recent evaluation, with the council split on whether or not the evaluation actually had been completed and whether a new evaluation process should be implemented. The fact that council members were uncertain about the status of the evaluation leads us to think the process definitely needed some improvement.

The new, more formal evaluation system for the city manager involves a 10-page form, which allows council members to rate the city manager in seven different areas: leadership and planning; fiscal management; management and staff development; operations; service and facility quality; the city manager/city council partnership; and communication, community education and public image.

The form also includes sections where council members can elaborate beyond the 1 to 5 rating system on the city manager’s areas of strengths as well as areas that need improvement. The document is comprehensive and on target when it comes to identifying key job duties, management areas and skill criteria to be considered by the council in evaluating the city manager’s job performance.

The new evaluation system also includes a public reporting piece that we think is valuable. The entire evaluation form will not be made public, but there will be a more concise public report generated that gives residents a summary of the city manager’s review and adds increased accountability to the process. Under the old system, the city manager’s evaluation was done verbally in closed session.

We understand that Hinsvark is on board with the new evaluation process, and we contend the new system will create the opportunity for increased job satisfaction and success, and in turn, provide more motivation for improvement and growth in the position.

A formal, written review process also provides clear documentation on what the council expects from its city manager and offers input on how the city manager can meet those expectations. There also is potential for back-and-forth feedback between council members and the city manager, which further improves communication and makes sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to managing and directing city operations.

The city manager is the City Council’s only employee, and he or she deserves a council that is willing to make the effort to complete a detailed annual performance review. The city manager is charged with overseeing a $44.7 million budget for an entity that employs approximately 211 full-time personnel, and with such responsibility comes the need for solid direction from the council.

Throughout the years, Steamboat has acquired a reputation for turning over city managers, and we think adopting a written performance evaluation for the position provides the council with a valuable management tool that will allow members to better assess the effectiveness of their top employee. The process also will give the city manager the direction and feedback he or she needs to do the job well, reducing the potential for friction while fostering a greater sense of teamwork.

Ultimately, the positive outcomes that could be realized under the new evaluation system have the potential to reduce turnover and improve the council’s ability to retain talented city managers for the long term.

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