Commission votes unanimously to approve suggestion made by Commissioner Brody
Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody’s colleagues agreed with his suggestion this week that employees should be allowed to comment anonymously on their working relationships with the three charter officials the board members will evaluate next year.
After a unanimous vote to that effect, Stacie Mason, director of the city’s Human Resources Department, told the commissioners she would try to keep the process on the original timeline she had provided them. That calls for the evaluations to be returned to the Human Resources Department by Feb. 23, 2018, with the board to have an opportunity in March 2018 to discuss the results during a regular meeting.
The timeline also includes one-on-one meetings between the individual commissioners and the three charter officials in January 2018.
According to the City Code, an annual evaluation of each Sarasota City Charter official is to be undertaken by the City Commission. The officials are City Manager Tom Barwin, City Attorney Robert Fournier and City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini.
“I’m glad we’re doing it,” Brody said of the evaluation process during a Dec. 4 discussion of the item Mason had put on the agenda. “I think it’s important.”
What he wanted to bring up, he continued, was the importance of finding a way “to include staff feedback on their supervisors.”
“We’re their bosses,” he pointed out of the charter officials. However, he felt employees should have the opportunity, as well, to offer views on Barwin’s, Fournier’s and Nadalini’s job performance.
“I would prefer it be anonymous,” Brody added.
When Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked for consensus, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert asked that Mason be allowed to address the request.
“It definitely could be part of the process,” Mason replied. The names of the people offering comments could be kept anonymous, she added, but the comments would become part of the public record, as the commissioners would be reviewing the material.
Freeland Eddie then sought board members’ views about which employees should be asked to comment.
“Staff is very, very large” in Barwin’s office, Brody replied, though the employee count in both Fournier’s and Nadalini’s offices is much smaller. Still, he said, “the more information the better, and maybe we learn a little bit about ourselves.”
Freeland Eddie suggested that the directors of departments, who deal most regularly with the three charter officials, would be the top pool from which the commission should seek comments. “You get the most critical feedback [from them].”
“I would agree with that,” Brody replied.
While she tended to concur with that approach, Alpert said, she was leaning toward allowing anyone who wanted to comment to have the opportunity to do so.
“I go along with the vice mayor,” Commissioner Willie Shaw responded.
Some city employees are so new to their jobs that they are still on probation, he pointed out, while others have been on staff for 25 years and have worked with a number of charter officials. “So we’re going to have different views coming from different people.”
Shaw told Brody, “I try to get out to mingle with the employees that we have on an individual basis, so that I can hear [their views] prior to us getting here [to discuss evaluations].”
However, Shaw continued, he doubted that Brody — who was elected in May — had had sufficient time yet to undertake a similar approach.
“I did a tour of some of the actual departments,” Alpert said. Most of the employees with whom she talked “just really loved their jobs and loved working for the city,” she noted.
“It doesn’t hurt to open it up if people have comments,” she added.
“I agree,” Brody replied, “as long as there is not a logistical issue …”
Freeland Eddie also suggested that the survey include a question asking the staff member to indicate his or her length of employment and level of position, though none should be obligated to provide that information.
“I wasn’t really anticipating sending a survey out to everyone,” Alpert responded. All Mason needs to do, she continued, is let employees know they have the opportunity to provide comments.
“I’m old school: Get a suggestion box and some pieces of paper, and they fill it out or they don’t, and it comes to us,” Freeland Eddie told Alpert.
Perhaps the best approach would be an online method of offering comments, Brody suggested. Email would not shield respondents’ names, he said, but an online survey would allow an employee to comment anonymously.
Shaw then reminded him that Alpert did not want a survey.
“We trust you to figure it out,” Freeland Eddie finally told Mason.
Then Shaw made the motion to approve the evaluation process, as outlined in the backup agenda material, with the addition of the opportunity for any employee to comment on the performance of each charter officials. Brody seconded the motion, and it passed 5-0.