Going forward, performance evaluations of the city manager should be more consistent but less public, the city council decided Wednesday.
The manager’s performance review also will be moved to late March from December, the council decided.
For years, council members have annually filled out and turned in written forms evaluating City Manager Mark Freitag’s performance in several categories on a scale of 1 to 10. The forms have been public records.
Freitag and several council members agreed it wasn’t the best way to measure if Freitag is meeting strategic plan goals, handling the budget and operating the city.
Freitag pointed out that the council as a whole, not its seven individual members, is his boss.
“I don’t think being evaluated by seven individuals is ideal of what the process should be,” Freitag said.
Freitag, a former Army colonel, was in favor of dropping form evaluations and making his performance review an oral feedback session. In the military, no one got wrapped up in a contentious evaluation process of high-ranking officers, he said.
“Chumps don’t get to this kind of level,” Freitag said.
Freitag also took issue with the timing of his evaluation. With a December evaluation, council members elected in April have only eight months to see his performance, he said.
“I think there’s a timing issue there,” Freitag said.
December is when Freitag started his job as city manager, so his annual review has fallen to that month.
Most council members agreed the use of individual forms to evaluate Freitag isn’t best. Comments in the evaluation forms can be filled with old issues that should have been brought to Freitag’s attention when they happened rather than “exploding” all at once during the evaluation, council President Doug Marklein said.
“When you’re evaluating an employee, there should be no surprises,” Councilwoman Sue Conley said.
Marklein said he could sometimes tell who had written a critique based on personal comments.
Councilman Jens Jorgensen, the only member to vote against the changes, defended the forms. In the interest of transparency, he argued the council should continue to use them so individual council members’ evaluations can remain public.
“I believe the form is important,” he said.
Other members argued they’re not trying to hide their critiques but instead give Freitag one evaluation rather than seven.
The council decided it will meet in closed session with City Attorney Wald Klimczyk and Human Resources Director Sue Musick. The members will evaluate Freitag’s performance, and the council president and vice president will draft a letter reflecting the council’s overall evaluation.
Council members will be able to make edits to the letter and return within a week for another closed meeting. The council will agree on revisions before presenting the letter to the city manager. The council will adjust the city manager’s salary based on inflation and performance.
Going forward, the council plans to meet with Freitag in December and May or June to make his evaluation an ongoing process to see if he’s meeting set goals. Council members are encouraged to air their grievances immediately rather than waiting for the evaluation, Marklein said.