Mayor rebukes Commissioner Brody over handling of evaluations of city manager and city attorney

Brody defends delivery of forms first to the Herald-Tribune before his colleagues or even Charter officials see them

Mayor Liz Alpert. File photo

Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert rebuked Commissioner Hagen Brody this week for providing copies of his evaluations of City Manager Tom Barwin and City Attorney Robert Fournier to theSarasota Herald-Tribune before he submitted them to his colleagues, the city’s Human Resources Department director or, in fact, Barwin and Fournier.

“Prior to the [Feb. 19 commission] meeting, none of these issues were discussed with the Charter officials,” Alpert told Brody. “You declined to meet with them to go over any issues.”

Moreover, referring to the deadline when all materials related to the City Commission agenda had to be made available to the public, Alpert pointed out that Brody’s evaluations “were not submitted on time. … I just think [the handling of the evaluations] was a disservice to the Charter officials, to the commission and to this community.”

Brody told her, “I think that an open and transparent review process is a better process for the community than meeting behind closed doors and discussing the issues, whether they’re positive or negative.”

“With all due respect —“ Alpert began before Brody interrupted her.

“Just let me finish,” he said. “I think it’s a better way to go about doing this,” he continued, referring to his earlier comments regarding public discussions of the evaluations.

Additionally on Feb. 19, Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch pressed Brody to explain why he gave the newspaper copies of his evaluations before he submitted them to anyone on city staff.

“Because, like I said,” Brody told her: It was better to discuss the board members’ evaluations of Barwin and Fournier “in the sunshine.” Brody was referring to the state law governing public meetings and discussions among public officials.

Ahearn-Koch repeated her question.

City Commissioner Hagen Brody. File photo

“OK, I don’t really know what you’re talking about,” Brody responded. “My written responses are in the record. … If you have anything to say about our Charter officials, I would love to hear it. That’s the purpose of this meeting.”

Once more, Ahearn-Koch asked him why he provided the Herald-Tribune the evaluations first. “I don’t think I understood your answer,” she said.

“I don’t really care to give you an answer,” Brody told her. “I’m open with the press and I’m open with the public … and I said a public meeting is the best place to discuss the performance of our Charter officials. If you disagree with that, fine.”

“I didn’t disagree [about the need for public discourse on the evaluations],” Ahearn-Koch said. “But I think the press is probably not the first place to discuss [them] … If you disagree with that, that’s OK, too.”

“I don’t object to discussing [the evaluations] in a public meeting,” Mayor Alpert said. “Of course, we should discuss [them] in a public meeting. However, I think it does a disservice to any employee — any employee— that you don’t discuss it with them first.”

Alpert again criticized Brody before the end of the Feb. 19 discussion, noting that he did not submit his evaluation forms until 12:30 p.m. that day, an hour before the meeting began.

“I don’t really care if you disagree,” Brody replied. Then he criticized Alpert for giving Barwin the top marks possible in response to every question on the form.

“That’s my view,” she said.

“Then focus on the Charter officials, not me, and I won’t focus on you,” Brody replied.

Commissioner Willie Shaw. File photo

Commissioner Willie Shaw told his colleagues that, in years past, the board members did not address the evaluations on a Consent Agenda, which is used for routine matters. He preferred the former practice of seeing them listed on the agenda as an item for discussion, he added.

When Shaw made a motion to direct staff to revert to that former practice, Alpert replied, “I don’t disagree.”

When Brody tried to interrupt him, Shaw told Brody, “I’m not talking to you; I’m talking to [Alpert].”

Brody did second the motion, which finally passed unanimously.

Ahearn-Koch participated in the meeting by telephone. Alpert explained that Ahearn-Koch had contracted chickenpox.

The evaluations

Brody and Ahearn-Koch were the only two commissioners to mark “Below Expectations” on any of the questions on the evaluation form for Barwin. Alpert marked “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” on every question, while Commissioner Shaw marked “Exceeds Expectations” for all his answers.

This is one page of Commissioner Hagen Brody’s evaluation of City Manager Tom Barwin. Image courtesy City of Sarasota
This is the last page of Commissioner Brody’s evaluation of City Manager Barwin. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie marked “Meets Expectations” for all but two questions, for which she provided no responses. One of those said, “Prepares an annual proposed balanced budget with Table of Organization & Communicates to the City Commission clearly & concisely.” The other said, “Provides sound & operationally achievable guidance on items presented before the City Commission.”

Both Freeland Eddie and Brody voted against the budget for the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2018. They argued that the city needed to be more fiscally conservative.

On her form for Barwin, Ahearn-Koch used arrows to separate her responses to facets of the question about preparation of “an annual proposed balanced budget,” marking “Below Expectations on the “Table of Organization” phrase.

With the question about providing “fiscally sound & operationally achievable guidance,” she indicated an inability to settle on “Below Expectations” or “Meets Expectations,” drawing arrows linking those answers.

This is the first page of Vice Mayor Jen Ahern-Koch’s evaluation of City Manager Tom Barwin. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Brody marked “Below Expectations on a number of questions, including “Provides an update and/or follow up to the City Commission on all items assigned,” “Displays accountability for their decisions & actions,” “Provides a professional environment in which employees can grow & develop,” and the annual proposed balanced budget question.

His lowest mark for Barwin was “Significantly Below Expectations” in response to the question about providing “fiscally sound & operationally achievable guidance.”

City Attorney Fournier received a mix of “Exceeds Expectations” and “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” from Alpert, Brody and Shaw. Ahearn-Koch marked “Meets Expectations” on a number of the questions, while Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie marked “Meets Expectations” in every case.

These are Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie’s written comments on her evaluation form for City Attorney Robert Fournier. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Alpert, Brody and Freeland Eddie are attorneys.

An open exchange

Brody had asked that the evaluations item on the commission’s Consent Agenda No. 1 be pulled for comments.

After he and Alpert first exchanged remarks, Brody offered views on the performance of City Attorney Fournier during the past year.

“I do think that you’re doing a great job,” he told Fournier. “I think that you provide great feedback in a timely manner.”

His only criticism, Brody continued, was that Fournier should “feel freer to interject [his] guidance … and [his] legal opinions” during meetings.

Brody then turned to Shayla Griggs, who has been serving as interim city auditor and clerk since the City Commission put City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini on paid leave in early January before firing her later that month. The commission took those actions in the wake of an investigation into reports that Nadalini had been verbally abusive of city staff members for years.

Brody told Griggs that she has “really stepped up to a very significant challenge … [Her job is] not easy and very demanding and I think you’ve handled it excellently [sic], with grace and professionalism, as well.”

These are Commissioner Freeland Eddie’s written comments on the form for City Manager Barwin’s evaluation. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Addressing Barwin, Brody said that he and the city manager had “discussed in private and also in public” some of Brody’s concerns about Barwin’s leadership. “I do think that your department officials are really doing a great job,” Brody continued. “I value their opinions and their expertise.”

In terms of criticism, Brody told Barwin that he especially would like for Barwin to make certain that when the commissioners are discussing matters that will have an impact on future budgets, the commissioners understand those consequences.

Additionally, Brody said to Barwin, “I feel like a lot of times you take things to the 90-yard line,” but that Barwin fails to let his passion about those issues “carry [them] across the goal line.”

Commissioner Freeland Eddie read her written comments in her evaluations into the record.