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Ravi Perry: The System for Evaluating the City Manager is Flawed

Friday, June 08, 2012


Dr. Ravi Perry, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

The grades are in! This week Worcester City Council evaluated City Manager O’Brien. Using what is known as a Likert-Scale evaluation rubric of 1-5 (five being the highest), councilors are to evaluate the manager’s performance in four ill-defined broad areas: finance, economic development, management efficiencies and improvements, and delivery of public services.

The scores are presumably accompanied by a detailed 1-4 page write-up from the councilors elucidating their reasons for the final grade. The evaluation process occurs yearly in June.

With not one councilor scoring the City Manager’s performance collectively in those four categories below a 4.1, at least two of the following four items is sorely obvious. 1) Each and every councilor is out of touch with Worcester’s affairs as measured by the four criterion; 2) the evaluation process is flawed and therefore the evaluation of the City Manager is also flawed and we therefore have no real idea how effective he has been 3) Councilors have never been educators or managers needing to evaluate performance of individuals and 4) Worcester’s evaluation process is flawed because the structure of government is also flawed.

Pick your two. As for me, I pick all four knowing that at least two are factually accurate.

This week’s “evaluations” are more than just a momentary ripple in an otherwise what some consider-to-be good environment. It’s emblematic of the serious flaws of our governmental structure.

Moreover, we have a flawed system that councilors use, but publicly admit is flawed!

How are voters to take this (or any councilor) seriously? If the system is flawed by your own admission, and you use it anyway, that suggests incompetence or disrespect to the voters. It’s one or the other.

This evaluation process is absolutely central to our current form of government and the process itself is labeled flawed by the very people who utilize it.

Councilors need to begin to take these evaluations seriously. Otherwise, they’re just popularity scores based on anecdotal, unsubstantiated “data.” And the electoral aftermath might not be pretty for some.

Strikingly, many of the comments from the councilors regarding the City Manager’s performance were extremely telling as it showed the limited knowledge many councilors have concerning the fiscal and overall strength of other comparable cities (i.e., Providence, Hartford, Springfield, etc).

While some councilors – O’Brien and Toomey, were at least critical on one point – the lack of diversity in city hiring – all others gave glowing reviews based seemingly on their individual experiences with the City Manager.

That is not an evaluation process. Well, at least not one that should count in a representative democracy.

That is not objective data. Therefore, without a structured, systematic evaluation, we can assume there is not one.

As a result, I highly recommend the City Council re-structures the evaluation process, strikes this week’s evaluation as indefensible and schedules a new evaluation process in late summer 2012.

And, for the record, I’m happy to help develop an objective framework of evaluation of the city’s most important municipal governance position.

Meanwhile, some councilors have reportedly asked the law department to come up with a better process. But, consider this: 1) there are area experts who can do the same with more objective and effective results. The law department employees are hired and/or fired by the current City Manager. Clearly, that’s a huge conflict of interest.

Additionally, the development of a more sustainable process is not a legal issue, but a municipal governance issue. The city needs experts on municipal governance. And frankly, it’s high time the city take advantage of the intellectual capital that exists in the region anyway.

Also, the process is to be designed by council – so why are we asking others? And, the better question yet is why did councilors have to wait until the media questions the effectiveness of the process before they chose to think about its effectiveness?

I wish we had more proactive politicians in Worcester.

The lack of engagement with process is extremely concerning. And it should be very disturbing to all area residents. The fact that this has been allowed to go on says a lot about our elected officials and our woefully complacent voting population.

But, the damage is already done and the result is that we have no real evaluation of the highest ranking public official in the city. Therefore, we have no idea how well positioned Worcester really is for the future.

I’m beginning to think many in Worcester want to keep it that way. Clearly, ignorance and lack of structure benefits somebody.

Dr. Ravi Perry is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of Ethnic Studies at Clark University where he specializations in Black politics, minority representation, and urban politics. He concentrates his research, oratory, and activism in areas such as the new generation of civil rights debates, public policy, and urban politics public service delivery to persons of color. His activism, commentary and oratory have been featured in media outlets nation-wide.  


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