OTHER VIEWS: COUNCIL MEMBER MALONE
Editor’s Note: This is the full text of Oneonta Common Council member Larry Malone’s address to his colleagues this past Tuesday, details his efforts to ensure City Manager Martin Murphy was equitably reviewed before Murphy’s dismissal last month.
I submit this summary of the 2015 City Manager Performance Review Process as part of the permanent record of the Oneonta City Council. There are three motivations for this statement: 1) to outline the design of the process; 2) to provide timelines and assess the implementation of the review, and; 3) to answer challenges regarding the integrity of the process.
The 2015 City Manager Performance Review Process was developed to comply with the City of Oneonta Charter, Section C 16 A, which states “The City Manager’s performance shall be annually evaluated by the Common Council and the Mayor.”
In assuming leadership for designing the Review, I sought to collaborate with Council Members to create a process that would be handed down to future Councils. There were two performance reviews of former City Manager Michael Long. The first of those reviews, at Mr. Long’s request after three months of service, was in November/December, 2013. It included 360 degree (multi-rater) interviews of Department Heads conducted by Dr. Robert McEvoy, Rockefeller College, SUNY Albany, who was paid $5,000 as a consultant. Council Members also summited memos of appraisal and Mr. Long provided a written self-assessment. Dr. McEvoy presented a summary of his interviews to the Council. Mayor Miller and the Council completed a second review of Mr. Long in spring, 2014. It consisted of interviews of Department Heads conducted by the Mayor, Council Member appraisals, an assessment of goals progress, and a self-assessment submitted by Mr. Long.
Given the scope of the task, the required review of former City Manager Martin Murphy needed to be scheduled at a time when other significant business would not interfere (notably the development of the City budget, which the City Charter requires to begin in July and conclude at the end of December, each year.) It was anticipated that the review would be completed in four to six weeks.
In designing the 2015 City Manager Performance Review, International City/County Management Association (ICMA) guidelines on best practices were consulted. Resources from more than a dozen municipalities were used. I also benefitted from first hand professional experience with executive reviews as a Vice President at Hartwick College, service on local and national not-for-profit governing boards, service as a reviewer for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the two performance reviews conducted for former City Manager Long.
ICMA recommended practices highlight four components to generate feedback for identifying successes and opportunities for professional development:
1) Individual Appraisals from Elected Representatives
2) A City Manager Self Appraisal
3) 360 Degree (Multi-rater) Interviews with Direct Reports
4) Goals and Objectives Assessment
Timelines, Implementation and Assessment
Process research was completed in mid March, 2015. After authoring a draft questionnaire for the 360 Degree (Multi-rater) interviews, Council Members were solicited for comments on the proposed review process and the questionnaire.
At the April 7, 2015 Council Meeting, copies of the draft document were circulated, and a second appeal was made to Council Members and former City Manager Martin Murphy for comments and suggestions. Revisions were incorporated, and the process was approved unanimously at the April 21, 2015 Council Meeting. The questionnaire was distributed to the audience and entered into the public record. Council Members were reminded that their responsibilities were to write individual appraisals and to conduct the 360 Degree (Multi-rater) interviews in complete confidentiality. It was also suggested that former City Manager Martin Murphy should provide an update on 2015 goals (See attached Goals for 2015).
During Open Forum at the next Council meeting on May 5, 2015, I asked Council members to move forward “this week” with scheduling their assigned Department Head interviews. A month later, again during Open Forum at the June 2, 2015 Council Meeting, six weeks before the decision to suspend former City Manager Martin Murphy, and six weeks after the Council had approved the process for the review, I urged Council Members to complete their assigned Department Head interviews. My colleagues were reminded that the interviews were only one of four components of the review, the others being confidential memos from each Council Member; a Self-Evaluation by the City Manager; and an update on the 2015 Goals.
The review process, originally expected to take four to six weeks, stretched out to almost three months. When the Council met on July 15, 2015 to discuss the performance of former City Manager Martin Murphy, one interview team had completed only one of its Department Head interviews.
Of the three Council Members who voted against (or abstained from) suspending former City Manager Martin Murphy at the July 17, 2015 Council Meeting, only one submitted a written appraisal. The Council Member who complained about the process being incomplete did not submit an appraisal. And the legitimacy of using the 360 Degree (multi-rater) interviews was questioned again. As the attached ICMA document entitled “Multi-rater Assessments Approved for Use by ICMA-CMs” shows, this is a long-
established ICMA practice. A recent article on the ICMA website entitled “Performance Evaluation of Managers” (2011) states that “Managers emphasize the inclusion of the council members and immediate subordinates within the evaluation as a crucial step to receive comprehensive feedback.” http://icma.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/blogs/blogpost/324/performance_evaluation_of_managers
Nor did former City Manager Martin Murphy submit a self-appraisal, despite ongoing reminders over the previous three months for him to do so. The former City Manager also did not offer to update the Council on the 2015 goals. Effective managerial practice suggests that a mid year (June) update on goals progress should have been submitted at the initiative of former City Manager Martin Murphy.
On July 15, 2015 five Council Members concluded, from a review and discussion of Department Head interviews and Council Member performance evaluation memos, that immediate action to suspend former City Manager Martin Murphy was warranted. The review process, as designed, was not completed. But some of the missing pieces were attributable to the decision by three Council Members to opt out of the performance review after its approval on April 21, 2015. The other missing pieces were attributed to a lack of response from the former City Manager.
Challenges Regarding the Integrity of the Process
I chose to assume the leadership of designing, and shepherding forward, the 2015 City Manager Performance Review Process. I proceeded with a high degree of personal and professional integrity, and with good intentions. My own appraisal memo, submitted to the Acting Mayor on June 24, 2015, and reviewed by Council Members, did not call for the suspension of former City Manager Martin Murphy. A Council Member’s remark that we spent more time devising the Chicken Ordinance diminishes the thought, collaborative effort, and careful deliberation that went into designing the performance review.
Our Council has worked well together for almost four years, and has many achievements to celebrate. We bring diverse strengths, and we have always worked in a non-partisan fashion. None of us celebrated the decision to suspend former City Manager Martin Murphy. But I stand fully behind the fairness of the review process and its outcome.