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UPDATED: Tacoma council members’ personal evaluations shed more light on Anderson’s firing

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Aug. 10, 2011 at 5:59 am | 11 Comments »
August 10, 2011 3:05 pm

(UPDATE 11:41 a.m. )

If anything, they offer an unvarnished look into what individual council members’ really think about the job performance of former Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson.


The performance evaluations of Anderson written by individual Tacoma City Council members — obtained this week by The News Tribune under the state’s public records law — mostly attach names to the criticisms and praise for Anderson, and provide insight into council members’ personal opinions about his overall performance.

Several of the opinions offered in the personal reviews are far more abrasive than those that ultimately appeared in the council’s official report card for Anderson made public last month.  Some of the criticisms didn’t appear in the report at all.

The official performance review — an anonymous, collaborative document essentially authored by all nine council members — represents a toned-down amalgamation of the individual evaluations. Mayor Marilyn Strickland served as the editor who pulled together the final document for the council, which unanimously adopted it later.

Still, even the subdued evaluation presented publicly last month provided more varied and harsher criticism of Anderson than ever before during his six year run as Tacoma’s chief administrator.  (We previously wrote about the review of Anderson’s work over the past year here.) It provided the basis for the council’s 6 to 2 vote to terminate Anderson’s employment with the city.

During the council’s consideration on whether to extend Anderson’s contract, those voting to oust him largely offered generalizations and platitudes, saying Anderson had served Tacoma well, but the city is heading in a new direction.

But some of their personal criticisms seem to tell a different story.

Some opinions seemingly de-emphasized in the final evaluation were strongly worded criticisms by Jake Fey, Ryan Mello and David Boe, all of whom generally described Anderson as having an overly controlling nature that left staff members afraid to speak out and other government agencies and private businesses and developers frustrated to work with the city.

Written evaluations from Boe, Victoria Woodards and Spiro Manthou do not include their names. But Boe said today his anonymity on the review form wasn’t intentional; he and other members directly submitted the forms as part of the collaborative evaluation process, he said.

“I wrote those to inform my fellow council members, not really for public consumption,” Boe added.  “If we write them as if they are for public consumption, we might not write them with the same intensity.  So, I just answered them straight up.”

Now that the records are public, “I’m not going to say they’re not mine,” Boe said.

In her own evaluation of Anderson, Strickland largely stuck up for the city manager’s work,  at one-point even criticizing some of her fellow council members for criticizing him:

“At times, it feels as though some council members forget that Tacoma has a City Manager form of government, try to play `gotcha’ with the City Manager and sometimes get bogged down in process instead of focusing on ideal outcomes for the city,” she wrote.

The News Tribune obtained the personal evaluations under a public records request to the city. City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli initially withheld the records, citing an exemption from disclosure for “draft”  records. But Pauli later agreed to disclose the records after the TNT appealed, based on legal advice from Tim Ford, Open Government Ombudsman for the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

To read the full 70-pages of records, including members’ personal drafts and evaluations of Anderson, click  here.  Here are some examples of the more opinionated criticisms that were either toned down, revised or edited out of the final evaluation for Anderson:

Jake Fey:

“The ethical issues in the Human Rights and Human Services, Finance and especially the Police Departments are very unsettling. While the Councilmember acknowledges that mistakes in judgment can and do happen from time to time, the lack of good judgment by employees involved makes him wonder if the City Manager is setting the proper tone. The Councilmember finds it incomprehensible that he would consider the withholding of extremely critical facts by the Police Chief in the Zina Linnick (sic) matter `not a lie.’ If the City Manager truly believes that then this Councilmember believes the City Manager has very serious issues to address. Councilmember fails to understand the logic in the City Manager’s failure to take disciplinary action for the withholding of information.”

“This Councilmember is also concerned that the City Manager has put the city in a very difficult position through the utilization of one-time withdrawals from pension funds and restructured borrowing. The City is quickly running out of budget options to balance budgets and, absent a recovered economy, will require the City Manager and the City Council to make more adverse budget cuts in future years.”

“The pattern of conflict with peer governmental managers continues. Councilmember acknowledges the calming of previous friction with some peers but is very concerned with the cavalier attitude toward the Director of Public Utilities that manifested itself during the budget process. The `I get to decide’ philosophy is just not acceptable.”

David Boe:

“The whole Cheney Stadium Upgrade has been, for this Council Member, badly managed — from the lease agreement (what is IN and what is OUT of the project)  to the project procurement itself (and this Councilmember has heard that in the Design/Build Industry the reputation of the City of Tacoma has been seriously damaged by the handling of this project). Standing behind a clause in the contract documents in order to relieve the city of following good project procedures is, for this Council Member, unacceptable on how to run a $30 million public/private project partnership.”

“The City Organization seems to be painfully slow at adopting new technology — with the City’s website being embarrassingly poor (significantly behind other municipalities in this regard).”

“This Council Member has heard repeated concerns from stakeholders in the community who feel a lack of trust with the City.”

“While the City Manager has always been personally accessible, the general response for new ideas for consideration from this Councilmember is that he runs the `Office of No.’  The impression for this Councilmember is that he allows Council Members to have small projects to keep them busy so that he is able to run the city unfettered.”

“Still much work to be done in attaining an open and engaged goverment. Many in the business community have expressed to this Council Member that they perceive the Municipal Building as a citadel of control rather than an open and engaged advocate for growing existing businesses.”

Ryan Mello:

“I continue to receive complaints and frustrations from other agencies about how difficult the City is to work with, how we do not treat other agencies as partners and often approach disagreements as `our way or the highway.’ This is very concerning and the attitude needs to change to be a more positive partner in the delivery of public services.”

“Several issues have been incredibly frustrating to work on with the Manager over the past year including the Sauros site, Point Ruston redevelopment and most recently the Broadway Center contract renewal. Time and time again, decisions are made at the very last possible minute, misinformation is used in the discussion and external parties are not treated as partners with respect and a `can do’ attitude. These are just some examples where it has seemed incredibly difficult to make any headway on issues — the goal post keeps moving on how to get the projects complete and parties on the other side are dealt untruthful or constantly moving information instead of straighforward, respectful conversation.”

“I hear regular criticism from the general business community and development community about how there is lack of trust with the Manager and significant lack of understanding of what the business and development community need to thrive. They do not see a culture of `yes’ being developed in the City and often see the City as an obstacle and obstructionist. We seem to make things much more difficult than they need to be after analyzing several situations. I also often hear that stakeholders are told one thing while the Council is told another. This is not appropriate nor does it promote a culture of trust and transparency.”

“Unfortunately, I hear regular feedback about how difficult the Manager is to work with from other jurisdictions and service providers…The Manager needs to do more to be respectful and helpful to other agencies, not cause headaches and speed bumps unnecessarily to others.”

Marty Campbell:

“We still fall very short on Economic development planning and execution. Our current strategy does not seem to be working well. Tacoma is not perceived to be a good place to do business. There is more to economic development than free parking and subsidies. In my time on the council, I have seen very little innovation in the economic development department. We are having the same problem as other cities, and when it comes to competing with them we need to be more innovative to regain competitiveness.”

“We need to have a better monitoring process to maintain prudent use of taxpayer money and transparency. We have been in the media too many times over issues of oversight and management errors.”

“I think Eric generally presents well with the media… With all that said, I think the Eric has made some media mistakes. I think the perceptions around truthfulness are at a low point and I don’t think that Eric has resolved it in the eyes of the council, the media or the public.”


Twitter: @lkamb

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