Note: This story was last updated at 11:25 a.m.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson has mostly met or exceeded expectations while performing his job, and a 2 percent pay raise and one-year contract extension could be considered on Monday, according to evaluations by six City Council members and the chair of an evaluation committee.
But one City Council member, Trina Baughn, said Watson needs improvement in all 30 areas that she rated, and she asked the city manager to consider voluntarily resigning.
“I don’t plan to resign,” Watson said in December. “Hopefully, we can continue to improve upon relationships.”
The city manager was rated in surveys submitted by six of the seven City Council members. The results were reviewed by the City Manager Evaluation Committee, which is chaired by Council member Charlie Hensley.
“The consensus of the Committee is: The city manager’s performance is generally and at least ‘meets expectations,’” Hensley said in a December 30 memo to City Council. “The submitted surveys support the conclusion that our city manager, at the least, meets job performance expectations and often exceeds in some areas.”
The 2 percent pay raise recommended for Watson would be the same as that given to city staff members this year. The one-year contract extension would extend Watson’s contract through August 8, 2018.
Watson’s current compensation is $153,337.60.
The annual city manager evaluations were scheduled to be considered during the City Council meeting in December. But they were postponed during that 4.5-hour meeting because of other significant items on the agenda as well as annual city boards and commissions elections.
In the surveys from six City Council members, Watson received 94 responses that said he fully meets expectations. He received 47 responses that said he exceeds expectations. That’s a total of 141 responses that said he fully meets or exceeds expectations.
The city manager had 38 responses that said he needs improvement. Thirty of those were from Baughn. She did not find any areas where the city manager meets or exceeds expectations.
Watson was rated in areas that include, as examples: provides mentoring and coaching to key staff; takes a proactive approach to issues; interacts effectively with federal, state, and other local government representatives; has complete professional integrity; projects a positive personal and professional image; disseminates complete and accurate information equally to all members in a timely manner; and keeps Council informed of administrative developments.
The city manager said he has the support of the majority of City Council members, and they all work well together. Council has had some good recent discussions, including at a housing retreat in the fall, but sometimes has to deal with crises such as Centennial Golf Course and Anderson County General Sessions Court, Watson said.
Baughn said the financial burden on residents has increased in numerous ways since Watson came to Oak Ridge, and half the community is economically disadvantaged while he receives a total compensation of more than $220,000.
“They deserve better,” Baughn said. “At the very least, they deserve transparency and accountability, both of which you eschew at every turn.”
She asked Watson to consider voluntarily resigning and “foregoing the roughly $140,000 golden parachute built into your contract.”
Asked about Baughn’s comments, Watson responded: “I have read her comments and will take that under consideration with all the other comments.”
He said he has the same benefits as other city employees, and a severance agreement has no cost for the city unless there is a change.
Watson, who started in Oak Ridge in August 2010, said he has recruiters calling him every week, trying to entice him to manage other cities, but he hopes to stay here for a while.
He cited the good progress being made on a number of fronts, including improved relationships with the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce and Roane Alliance and the expected construction at Main Street Oak Ridge, the project to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall.
“I’m still quite busy,” Watson said.
Other City Council members praised Watson and his leadership but also found areas for improvement. They said he provides the overall leadership and lets the staff do its job; is honest, hard-working, articulate, and very bright; does well in seeking the best approach and hiring staff, especially in light of limited funding; sees “the big picture” and plans ahead; and strategizes to create solutions to “big problems,” as evident in the progress on Main Street Oak Ridge, industrial recruitment, and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Extreme Energy Makeover grant.
Among the areas for improvement they cited: present multiple options for City Council to consider; work on a solution to housing, particularly the so-called legacy homes; continue to increase the knowledge and sensitivity related to the challenges faced by locally owned businesses; bring back the multi-year financial planning model; manage resources appropriately to help the municipal staff do its work; and engage in more “brainstorming” before setting an initial approach to projects.
Here are Hensley’s comments summarizing the evaluations:
Leadership (Meets Expectations)
- Added focus on earlier brainstorming among staff and stakeholders was discussed prior to major decisions with possible periodic retreats.
Budgeting (Meets Expectations)
- Greater focus on major issues and returning to use of the multi-year model were discussed. Replacing the current accounting system should be a major priority.
Service Delivery and Administration (Meets Expectations)
- A simple process is needed to assure requests from citizens, including those from individual community leaders, are provided and/or are completed.
Citizen and Community Relations (Meets Expectations)
- Establishing a staff public relations position to provide honest and accurate information on events and issues was discussed. Assessment and ranking of community groups for their impact on the city was discussed.
Personal and Professional Qualities (Exceeds Expectations)
- More and earlier brainstorming among staff was discussed and requested for major issues.
Council Relations (Meets Expectations)
- Also, presenting issues on the city website for broader understanding within citizenry was discussed. Presenting multiple options is requested instead of just presenting the preferred option. More information on staff turnover rates, departures, and new hires is requested. Also, more communications on ongoing issues was discussed.
See the individual evaluations by Baughn, Hensley, Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch, Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith, and Council members Kelly Callison and Chuck Hope starting on page 16 of the December 14, 2015, City Council agenda.
See a summary of the responses and Hensley’s memo to Council starting on page 13 of the January 11, 2016, City Council agenda.
The Oak Ridge City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday, January 11, in the Municipal Building Courtroom. See the agenda here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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