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Zimmerman, Lewis fail on Ott resolution

Friday, February 26, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Conservative City Council Member Don Zimmerman and liberal attorney Fred Lewis don’t have much in common, but they both seem bent on replacing City Manager Marc Ott. Nonetheless, they failed on Thursday to persuade any of the other 10 members of Council to hold an open performance evaluation, with input from the public, for Ott or any other Council appointee.

Council Member Ora Houston, who has worked in a variety of state agencies, said that none of the evaluations of those agencies’ chief executive officers took place in public and that she would object if the city chose to do that. She also warned that having those conversations in public might make her or her fellow Council members the subject of a recall petition.

Lewis, citing the 2015 Zucker Report on development review and permitting, told Council that instead of having one of the best managed cities, Austin has one of the worst managed. Lewis, who has served as an adviser to Mayor Steve Adler, proposed that Council evaluate the appointees, particularly Ott, to see whether their work has been congruent with the city’s comprehensive plan, Imagine Austin.

Adler said he would post something on the City Council Message Board relating to evaluating the appointees in light of Imagine Austin next week. He also indicated that the city clerk, city auditor and municipal court clerk would be evaluated during the first and second weeks in March, and Ott’s evaluation might be on March 29.

Lewis’ website says, “We believe that Austin needs new senior management personnel – fresh, innovative, and effective city management to fulfill the full promise of our new 10-1 governing system. Manage Austin Better advocates for an immediate, rigorous, performance-based, 360-degree evaluation of Austin’s current management and then for replacing them.”

Houston pointed out that the current Council members did not come into their jobs “with any kind of priorities for the city manager.” Priorities were set before the 10-1 Council got there, she said.

By the end of the current evaluation process, Houston said, she hopes that Council and the manager will have set some common goals. Council has tried to construct those goals over the past year, she said, “and I think the city manager has tried to help us, … but I think we have to have these conversations in private.”

Council was considering a mild resolution establishing steps for annual performance evaluation processes for the four appointees. The resolution, which ultimately passed 10-0-1, with Zimmerman abstaining, says the city manager is directed to ensure that the human resources director schedules individual performance evaluation sessions for each appointee during March and April 2016.

The resolution further states, “The performance evaluation sessions shall be conducted by the City Council in closed session, unless the appointee requests that the evaluation session be conducted in open session,” in accord with state law.

Zimmerman proposed an amendment to the resolution directing Council to have a special called meeting after the evaluation to discuss it and take public comment. Then, Council would have to take action on the manager’s salary and compensation.

If Council were to have those conversations with the manager in public, Houston said, “I don’t know that we’d ever get another city manager.” In addition, she said, “I’m concerned about (the recall effort for) Council Member (Ann) Kitchen. If people just get mad at you and start filing petitions – I may be next. So, how vulnerable are we going to make our leaders?”

Council members Ellen Troxclair and Leslie Pool both pointed out that the Council can make remarks and discuss their evaluations in public if they choose to do so. Only Zimmerman voted for his resolution.

By M.Fitzsimmons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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