Scarp: City must end secret performance reviews - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Scarp: City must end secret performance reviews

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Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2008 10:47 pm | Updated: 9:23 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The beginning of what might be the end of City Manager Jan Dolan’s career with Scottsdale may well have started in late 2006.

Read Mark Scarp's blog, Scarpsdale

Your hometown newspaper simply desired to get a public record that the city didn’t want us to see.

It was a simple enough request. Readers of this newspaper know about it.

We wanted to see the performance review of the city manager, the city’s highest ranking and most influential employee, who spends millions of dollars in the City Council-approved city budget.

Public and press are barred by state law from sitting inside a closed meeting of the council, known as an executive session, where such evaluations are allowed by law to take place.

Of course, we learned there was no such thing as a written review of Dolan, because her review was conducted not only in legally secret session, but orally, which also is quite legal but surely won’t win Scottsdale City Hall the cover photo in Government Accountability Illustrated magazine, if there was such a thing.

All we could ask for that was written down was Dolan’s own evaluation of her own performance. So we asked for that.

We were told that we couldn’t see it.

When Dolan was asked, months later in open council session, if she could end the controversy — which had led the Tribune to file suit against the city — by releasing it, she said “no.”

There weren’t enough council members voting to counter that assertion, so the case went on. Last August, the newspaper won the right to see the record at a cost to the city of its attorneys’ fees — and ours.

Since that court decision, the council attempted, to no avail, to change the way it evaluates its top officials, known as charter officers.

Putting the evaluation itself or any part of it in writing, a significant step toward accountability, never got any serious consideration. But a majority didn’t want to create such a document.

An attempt was made to have council members agree on the criteria for evaluating Dolan and the other charter officers. But there was no majority support for that, either.

The only thing the council agreed on was to apply each member’s individual measuring criteria to the process, something they were pretty much doing anyway. And it was left at that.

Dolan’s next evaluation under these lack of criteria is March 18. It’s not looking good.

This meeting is taking place because one of the four-member council majority that has traditionally supported Dolan, Councilman Wayne Ecton, changed his mind, telling one of our reporters that a “change in management” is warranted without explaining why.

Without any more changes of heart, the score is looking like it will be Detractors 4, Dolan 3.

Whatever happens to Jan Dolan’s job on or about March 18, Scottsdale residents won’t know why it happened.

In a Scottsdale Voice column published in Saturday’s Tribune, Councilman Bob Littlefield correctly observed that, “Whether Jan Dolan resigns, is fired or hangs on to her job, it is clear that this policy of secret charter-officer performance evaluations has to end.”

As long as a majority of council members refuses to change the policy to which Littlefield refers, it won’t matter who is city manager. Evaluations will be done behind closed doors and with no written record.

So if the city’s highest official gets a raise or a reprimand, you will have no way to know why or whether he or she deserved that.

If Scottsdale must hire a new city manager, the council should announce to potential applicants that evaluations shall be conducted publicly.

Anyone who isn’t comfortable with that need not apply.

This brouhaha began with a request for a public record that Scottsdale’s leaders don’t want to exist. It’s not too difficult to figure out why things started heading downhill fast from there.

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