By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa has hired a second outside consultant to help it get to the bottom of issues at City Hall, this time paying a trained psychologist from Napa to help the council review the performance of top city managers.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he initiated a “360 review” of City Manager Kathy Millison and City Attorney Caroline Fowler last month to broaden and improve the way the council evaluates its two at-will employees.
The city has hired Bill Mathis, principal of the Napa-based Mathis Group, to guide the council through a new evaluation process that includes confidential interviews with the two employees, the department heads they manage and city council members.
“I think it’s just a smart way to evaluate anybody,” Bartley said.
Mathis, who bills himself as one of the few public sector management psychologists in the nation, has done work for the city before and is well known in the industry, Bartley said.
It has been customary for the mayor to lead the City Council in its annual review of the city manager and city attorney, who under the city’s charter serve at the will of the council.
But Bartley said he found last year’s evaluations frustrating in part because of the sharply divided council.
“It’s challenging when there are seven individuals with seven opinions, some of whom have never done employee evaluations before,” Bartley said.
Pulling those disparate views together into a coherent evaluation and agreeing on a plan for improvement is “a very difficult thing to do,” especially since council members are prohibited from individually discussing an employee’s job performance with them, he said.
The result is the process has been allowed to slip. Council policy is to complete such reviews by March, before the budget process. But last year the reviews didn’t begin in earnest until the summer and were never completed because after the October shooting of Andy Lopez “things were flying in every direction.”
After the reviews are completed, the employees are supposed to respond with work plans for the coming year, but that didn’t happen and at this point would be “academic” given the new process, Bartley said.
The goal now is to get the evaluations back on track in part by having a trained professional guide the process, Bartley said.
“I think it’s positive for everybody and takes an arduous job away from the council and helps us get some more constructive feedback,” Bartley said.
With three key department heads leaving near the end of 2013, Bartley said he moved forward with hiring Mathis in early December because he wanted make sure those managers could share their input before they left.
Mathis has been conducting interviews for several weeks and is expected to submit a confidential report on his findings to the City Council in coming weeks.
Some who have met with Mathis have called him professional and insightful.
Whatever report he submits to the council likely will synthesize any issues raised regarding Millison’s and Fowler’s performance, but the sources of that information will remain confidential, Bartley said.
Mathis likely will then help the council craft its performance review. The new process in no way reflects on the performance of either employee, Bartley said.
Councilman Gary Wysocky asked Millison during this week’s council meeting what Mathis’ work was costing the city. She said she didn’t know but would get him an answer.
Bartley said he didn’t know the answer either, but “as far as I’m concerned it’s a cost of doing business.”
City Hall was closed Friday and Millison could not be reached for comment.
Human Resources director Fran Elm said she couldn’t remember an outside consultant being hired for such evaluations in her 25 years with the city, but she knows other cities do so.
“It is not uncommon for other cities to do this exact same thing,” Elm said.
Mathis is the second outside consultant hired in recent months to help the council manage what some see as growing signs of dysfunction.
Bartley lodged a complaint against Wysocky in November, accusing him of creating a hostile work environment at City Hall following an argument he had with Fowler in the tense days following the Andy Lopez shooting.
That prompted the city to hire attorney Morin Jacob, with the San Francisco law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, to investigate the allegation, at $265 per hour.
(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.)