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Judgment Day for City Manager O’Brien

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


After a year of budget cuts, an overhaul of the city’s costly healthcare plan, and a scandal involving Police Chief Gary Gemme, City Manager Michael O'Brien will face the music at tonight’s annual evaluation performed by City Council. Councilors have received their evaluation sheets and have the chance to weigh in on O’Brien’s year.

O’Brien has faced many challenges since his last evaluation. Councilors have cited him for not hiring enough minorities and in the past have spoken out about his management of Chief Gemme, who failed to adhere to the city’s social media policy. The city’s repsonse to the Pat’s Towing fiasco was also a hot topic for O’Brien.

O’Brien has also dealt with “limited resources, unfunded mandates, emergency conditions and high expectations” according to his statements in regards to his personal evaluation, which have all been a hurdle.


At-Large Councilor Kathleen Toomey spoke out about O’Brien’s lack of outreach to minority employees.

“I'm still disappointed in the minority outreach and hires. I asked that that would be looked at,” Toomey said. “We are the most diverse city in Central Mass. I’m not seeing that reflected in the new hires. I can't see why we can't reach out.”

While O’Brien has been good at answering other requests for Toomey in the past, this issue has yet to be resolved.

“It has me thinking, do we not reach out to the right people? I don't believe we don't have people of color here in the city willing to do these jobs,” she said.

Another issue for the City Manager was the scandal with Police Chief Gemme, who violated the city’s social media policy. In May, At-Large Councilor and former Mayor Konstantina Lukes told GoLocalWorcester that the City Manager ultimately is responsible for the actions of the Police Chief.

“The chief is the Manager’s appointee and I hold the Manager responsible for his appointees and staff. I will evaluate the Manager in June,” she told GoLocal a few months ago. “I will give him my opinions of his performance then. I will hold off on comment until the evaluation.”

When asked Monday, Lukes said that she was reluctant to speak on any issues playing into her evaluation.

At-Large Councilor and former Mayor Joe O’Brien said that while the City Manager has done well with what he has, this year was not as strong as the past.

“I think he's done a reasonable job, but hasn’t been as strong as the last couple years,” O’Brien cited a number of issues that brought him to this mindset but would not disclose anything before tonight’s meeting. “I'm comfortable saying that it hasn't been as strong as previous years. I’m not sure where my colleagues fall. I will raise some of those issues at out meeting.”

Big Shoes to Fill

When compared to last year, the City Manager may have some big shoes to fill. Council Lukes for example, gave him a perfect score last year – something which may be harder for O’Brien to obtain this go around.

“I gave him a five because of the budget. He pushed through significant reforms that were met with open hostility,” she said.

‘Nobody’s perfect’

O’Brien received positive remarks for his handling of the city’s economic development and bond rating.

“They're working so hard with so little manpower,” said Councilor Toomey. “It's difficult to be as efficient as they want to be. They're doing a great job with what they've got. Nobody's perfect.” She congratulated O’Brien on his work with the Bookmobile in Worcester and the proposed construction at the Nelson Place School.

Councilor O’Brien had similar thoughts, saying, “The city's in good shape economically, and I think he’s playing a leading role in that.”

“I consider it a privilege and an honor to serve the City Council and this community,” said the City Manager. “I am proud of all that we have accomplished in the last year and over the course of the last eight years. In spite of challenging economic times, we continue to push ahead and seize opportunities – from economic development to reinvestment in our streets, sidewalks, and public infrastructure. We have stabilized our City’s finances and have set the table for long-term success for our community.”

“I would be remiss if I did not thank our entire City team for a job well done, under the pressures of limited resources, unfunded mandates, emergency conditions and high expectations. Time after time, and consistently, they have risen to the challenges,” he said.

The annual report, which has been in practice since 1996, grades the City Manager on four criteria including finance and budget management, education, and implementation of technology and public services. All categories are given a rating on a 1-5 scale. 


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