In my April editorial, I noted that change is in the air.
Durango has a new City Council, with fresh ideas, open minds and a willingness to challenge the status quo. We recently gathered for a day-and-a-half retreat. It was a valuable opportunity to establish council priorities and lay the groundwork for the proactive, collaborative and transparent leadership this council is committed to providing.
We discussed many ideas that will benefit all residents of Durango, but in my opinion, one of the most practical and potentially game-changing discussions at this retreat focused on two agenda items, entitled “Strategic Planning, Council Goals and Employee Goals” and “Establishing a Process for a Future Evaluation System for the City Manager, City Attorney and Municipal Judge.”
To provide a little background, the city of Durango is a $92 million enterprise with over 350 employees on the payroll. Three of those employees work directly with, and for, City Council.
The city manager’s job is to carry out the policies and projects of City council. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the city and appoints department directors and staff. The city attorney provides legal advice and prepares agreements, ordinances and contracts. The municipal judge enforces municipal law.
Our city charter assigns City Council responsibility for setting goals and objectives for these three staff members and for supervising and holding them accountable through a performance evaluation process.
Over the years, City Council adopted a relaxed attitude about goal-setting for staff, allowing them more autonomy by assuming that council’s stated goals would serve as adequate staff goals. The problem with this is that City Council’s goals are broad, big-picture goals and don’t provide focused and measurable objectives for city staff. For example, whereas one of council’s goals is to “demonstrate government performance through efficient, effective and innovative city operations,” a more specific goal for the city manager could be that “capital projects are performed on time, on budget, within scope and with regular updates provided to council.”
Furthermore, the evaluation process that was meant to ensure accountability has dwindled to little more than an annual 20-minute routine that lacks substance. The result is that City Council has gradually assumed a less proactive role in directing and managing staff and holding staff accountable.
Durango City Council’s current goals, as listed on the city’s website, were established in 2011. Our new council recognizes that much has changed in the past eight years. We discussed the importance of updating these goals to make them more relevant for the Durango of 2019. Once our over-arching, big-picture goals are fine-tuned and in place, we can begin working with city staff to nail down precise goals and quantifiable expectations for them. In this way, we believe we can provide the strategic vision and direction from the top down that our city needs.
In terms of the evaluation process, the general consensus was that the best way we can ensure that the efforts of city staff are consistently aligned to City Council’s objectives is by creating a more thorough, rigorous and ongoing performance evaluation process that holds staff members accountable for carrying out council policies.
We discussed best practices and review formats that would include appropriate time and setting for effective deliberation.
Why are these changes such a game-changer?
Because without these specific goals and an evaluation process based on measurable outcomes, City Council, the body that has been elected by the citizens of Durango to represent their best interests, has no supervisory power over the policies and projects that serve the will of the people.
These changes council are considering represent a significant shift from previous council practices.
I see it as a big step forward toward good stewardship and transparency. I see it as a significant step toward restoring trust.
Unfortunately, these changes may also be contentious, because changing past practices implies that the previous practices were inadequate. It is my hope that as a council and as a community, we can invest our time and energy to move positively and productively into the future, rather than rehash the past. As difficult as change can be, it’s always appropriate for any organization to strive to be more efficient and more effective – in other words, more successful. We are committed to ensuring “success through accountability.”
Melissa Youssef is mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at Melissa.Youssef@DurangoGov.org.