Just one comment.
That’s all the feedback Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said he’s gotten from the public in the 11 years he’s run the city, at least through official channels. City Council wants that to change.
The Durango city charter – a legal document that establishes the authority of a municipality – requires local leaders to invite “the public” to “comment on the performance of the city manager,” according to the charter. The invitation must be published 30 days before any scheduled evaluation of the city manager, typically in the legal notices of The Durango Herald.
But, clearly, people are not reading the legal notices, City Councilor Barbara Noseworthy said during a special study session Tuesday.
“We need to do it in a manner that allows people to see the notice and an opportunity for people to respond,” she said.
A new processLeBlanc said he noticed the requirement for public comment when he took the job more than a decade ago. He asked the outgoing city manager how many comments he’d received from the public, but there weren’t any.
Noseworthy and City Councilor Dean Brookie drafted a process to make the public comment opportunity more robust.
The invitation could be published on durangogov.org and sent to the email addresses subscribed to receive city notices, the councilors proposed.
Councilors suggested using a third-party vendor to collect comments, summarize trends and provide individual remarks to the City Council in a manner that keeps the identity of the authors confidential. By contrast, anyone who wanted to comment in at least the past 11 years has had to do so through the City Clerk’s Office.
Providing comment would require the author to give their name, address and relationship to the city manager in an effort to give a third-party vendor some mechanism of verifying the weight each remark should be given.
The names and addresses of people who provided comments would be withheld from public officials, according to a draft process. A summary of comments, however, would be made public, said City Attorney Dirk Nelson.
Questioning confidentialitySome city councilors want to use a third-party vendor to ensure confidentiality for anyone who provides comment. But Councilor Chris Bettin said the city’s charter says nothing about confidentiality.
Providing the proverbial cover for people creates an opportunity for “contributions that aren’t valid,” he said.
LeBlanc provided similar feedback about the proposed process. In fact, he made more than 50 written comments about the draft process for seeking public comments on the city manager’s job performance.
“Is there a bias toward collecting negative comments?” LeBlanc wrote as part of one comment. “Most compliments are given at the time of the occasion when the CM (city manager) interacts with a citizen. Most complaints become grudges that last for many months even years.”
The city manager often takes the brunt of public disagreement, and LeBlanc said people may not understand what exactly the city manager does.
“It’s not a beauty contest; the city manger has to make tough decisions,” LeBlanc said Tuesday. “Councils will let the city manager take the heat on most controversies.”
LeBlanc also suggested making names of people who commented public to increase transparency.
“What’s wrong with that,” he said.
But Noseworthy said she is “tied” to keeping the identity of commentators confidential, saying she’s heard concerns from constituents about potential retribution from city staff.
“People want to know they can make comments and not have ramifications from any city manager,” she said.
The public comments on the city manager’s performance are “a component of the evaluation, it is not the full evaluation,” Noseworthy said.
City Councilor Kim Baxter let out an audible sigh while reading LeBlanc’s list of 50-plus comments on the draft plan for soliciting more robust public comments.
“I understand that there is a thought that it is a negative process. It’s not supposed to be negative, it could be positive,” she said. “I’m sorry that this is being seen so negatively because it has a huge positive component to it.”
Robust goalsCity Council is drafting dozens of evaluation criteria by which to rate the city manager’s job performance. The measures are divided into eight areas of responsibility:
Community relations, collaboration and public interactions.Strategic leadership.Financial management.Economic and community development.City Council relations.Implementation of City Council goals.Organizational management and development.Team development.An evaluation form would be made available to rate the city manager’s performance. The public comment period would go from Oct. 28 to Nov. 10, and the City Council could begin a formal evaluation Nov. 20, according to the draft proposal. A final evaluation may be finished and provided to the city manager sometime in mid-December.