Two words to describe County Administrator Randy Oliver’s public job evaluation:
The county commission gave Oliver rave reviews Tuesday, thanks to Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr.’s strong-arm tactics that included shutting down Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach with a snide, “Be careful what you say.”
I wrote Tuesday that this process is crazy, the idea of having a public job review for the world to see. But Tuesday afternoon, watching it play out from my seat in the last row, I realized just how dysfunctional it is from a government policy standpoint.
Here’s the administrator, the big boss of county government, the manager, the one county commissioners hire to carry out their wishes – and there’s zero accountability, zero process for evaluation.
So what, exactly, are commissioners to base their evaluation of this employee? Budgets? Overall financial health of the county? Hiring an assistant county administrator? Meeting with the community? Answering emails no matter the time or day (Oliver is excellent at this)?
There is no guideline at all. Simply, evaluate. You know – evaluate! How involved can that be?
Normally it’s not a problem. The workspan of a county administrator is around five years, and Oliver has exceeded that. Commissioners and the administrator can usually see trouble from ways off, so a resignation or firing happens before things get too public.
(By the way...I haven't heard ANYTHING to suggest that was in the works.)
So we had a little anomaly Tuesday. It was the first time evaluating the administrator for Commissioners Schlabach and Holly Davis, who we know have had issues with Oliver and wanted to discuss them. We mentioned earlier that Commissioner Jeff Kinnard questioned whether Oliver was holding back adding staff in areas hit hard by growth, so there was some tension in the air as to how this was going to play out.
Kitchen, who says the chairman won’t talk much unless he’s the chairman and it’s an issue he wants out in front of, lauded Oliver for his excellent stewardship of Citrus County’s finances.
“Randy’s not a schmoozer,” Kitchen, who’s also not a schmoozer, said. “Randy doesn’t go to cocktail parties. Instead he’s at home at 2 in the morning studying budgets.”
Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who announced during the meeting he isn’t running again, sided with Kitchen as was expected.
Kinnard was next. We’d get a good idea how the next 30 minutes would go based on what he said.
This is what he said: “Agree.”
Well, there you go. Kinnard, the quiet Beatle, had spoken.
The only thing left was how far would Schlabach and Davis take it, and would Kitchen be a gentleman chairman and allow commissioners to speak their opinion without hassle or would he hound them into feeling guilty for bringing it up?
Take a guess.
I’m not going to get into all of it, but Davis and Schlabach did not deserve the chairman’s disrespect. Pure and simple. They weren’t being jerks or personal about it.
Davis (rightly) suggested a better process that provides some guidelines for evaluating job performance. The administrator may be great in one area and weak in another. How do we cover that?
Kitchen’s answer: This is how we’ve done it in my seven years in office.
Schlabach (rightly) wondered if she wasn’t allowed to provide any criticism, why have the public evaluation at all?
“What I’m hearing is you want me quiet and go along with everything. Sorry!” she said.
Based on Kitchen’s reactions, that’s exactly what she was hearing.
Carnahan said as much: If a commissioner has an issue with Oliver, he/she should discuss it with him behind closed doors. No argument here, but that’s not how this thing is set up. The county commission does this dumb public evaluation process on purpose. Schlabach shouldn’t be blamed because she followed it.
All told, it was not local government’s finest hour. When it was all done, no one objected when Kitchen said he wanted to sign an evaluation letter that says Oliver is held in the highest regard.
Telling Schlabach, “Be careful what you say,” is more than insulting to a fellow commissioner. It’s the chairman, who runs the meeting, telling another commissioner her opinion is not valued because it disagrees with his and that she SHOULDN’T EVEN EXPRESS IT.
It’s a heavy-handed chairman move designed to shut down and humiliate a commissioner, and frankly I thought Kitchen had more class than that.
2. Geez, just a terrible process. This should be the last time we “evaluate” a county administrator in such an archaic way. It’s not rocket science, but there should be some guidelines that commissioners can use to determine whether goals and objectives are being met.
So there you have it. I don’t know what Oliver takes from all this. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Kinnard’s “agree” – not sure what to make of that. I glanced over at the administrative staff sitting a few rows down and they had a look of terror in their eyes as this all unfolded before them.
It could have been avoided even with the lousy process. It’s possible to have a conversation about the future of the county without it getting so personal. We seriously are never going to get anywhere if we can’t figure that out.
Tuesday was a great example of how NOT to do it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.