Our View: Council got it right, but barely
August 7, 2012
Tuesday night's public discussion about the job performance of City Manager Jon Roberts might have been awkward and uncomfortable, but it was needed. More important, it led to clarity and a correct decision on the part of the Steamboat Springs City Council.
Roberts still has his job this morning, and that's appropriate given the abruptness of Tuesday's attempt by at least one council member to fire him. What quickly became clear to anyone who watched or listened to Tuesday's discussion in Centennial Hall was that the seven members of the City Council aren't on the same page when it comes to the leadership of the city.
Walter Magill, who requested that an executive session to discuss Roberts be placed on the meeting agenda, acquiesced to fellow council member Cari Hermacinski's prudent plea that any discussion about the city manager's performance be transparent and held in public, much like Roberts' hiring was handled in January 2009. When it came time for Magill to air his frustrations with Roberts, the veteran council member didn't hold back. He talked at length about communication, collaboration and leadership issues.
Kenny Reisman then spoke of a disconnect between Roberts and the council as well as between Roberts and the community. And Sonja Macys talked about an organizational culture characterized by low employee morale and inconsistency from the city's top employee.
It should be noted that Macys, who at one point questioned Roberts' commitment to transparency, ironically lamented the fact that the whole issue of Roberts' job performance could have been taken care of quietly and out of the public eye. Macys also hinted at recent discussions among some council members about Roberts' performance issues, which raises questions about potential violations of Colorado Open Meetings Law. (Editor’s note: Macys firmly denied Aug. 8 that council members have held any illegal meetings in regards to Roberts’ job performance.)
Then came Roberts' defenders. Scott Myller said Roberts' strengths outweigh his weaknesses. Hermacinski argued that Roberts has been an effective administrator, and she chastised some of her fellow council members for being micromanagers instead of policymakers. Council President Bart Konouvsky expressed support for Roberts and his belief that any issues with the city manager can be worked through.
But ultimately it was council member Kevin Kaminski who led his fellow elected officials to an appropriate resolution. Kaminski said the process of evaluating Roberts' performance needs to be fair, which means clear expectations and a specific timeline to meet them. That some council members were unaware of the effort to unseat Roberts until the last minute and that his May 1 performance evaluation didn't appear to include concrete direction from the council speak to the need for open, honest dialogue between the sides. Tuesday's meeting, thanks to Hermacinski's push for a discussion in open session and Kaminski's compromise for a follow-up meeting during which the council's expectations for its city manager will be clearly defined, was a good start to that process.
Roberts may be the right man for the job, or he may not be. The council, and Roberts, soon will be in a better position to make that decision.