Vero Beach city employees could finally get formal performance reviews

VERO BEACH – If the City Council follows through on its fervor, life is about to change for most of the 450 employees of the City of Vero Beach.

“It’s going to be a culture clash, I can tell you, because it’s never been done in the City of Vero Beach,” said Councilman Craig Fletcher, who tried to institute reviews the last time he was on the City Council. Up to now, only one department in the city – the police – receive any kind of written performance reviews. But soon all employees will be given measurable objectives and held accountable for achieving them.

The issue came up at a recent regular City Council meeting, but the news got buried amidst the coverage of the vote to fire City Attorney Charles Vitunac.

When Council members went looking for documentation as to whether top city staff – specifically the three charter officers – had been living up to their job descriptions and meeting their goals, they found nothing to go on in the personnel files.

Other than a 90-day probationary review, employees from the lowest level manual laborer to the City Manager are not evaluated on paper.

“I’m shocked that a government entity would not sit down with the employees on a yearly basis to make sure they were doing their jobs,” said Councilwoman Tracy Carroll.

When members of the City Council were stunned by the revelation and the public in the chambers gasped in disbelief, Acting Electric Utilities Director John Lee rose to the podium to provide confirmation.

“I have been with the city 31 years, now some of you may think that’s too long, and I’ve never been reviewed,” Lee said. “There has never been a formal one. For 31 years, every City Council has discussed it and every City Manager has chosen not to do it.”

Mayor Jay Kramer proposed having the City Council formally review the City Clerk, City Attorney and City Manager so things like a resolution for termination could be based on concrete documentation instead of subjectivity.

Kramer said a review would show “what they are doing and what contributive work they do for the city.”

Fletcher said reviews wouldn’t solve the inherent human element in the process, but that reviews are quite useful in handing down progressive discipline, in negotiating with a union over an employee, or in the worst case, defending the city in a lawsuit.

“No matter what you do on an evaluation, some of it is going to be subjective,” Fletcher said. “But it requires them to set long-term and short-term goals and you always go back and talk to the people one on one. You’ve got to have that piece of paper.”

Vice Mayor Pilar Turner, who spent her engineering career in large corporations, shook her head at the lack of accountability and oversight for this huge public expenditure which is the city staff.

“You must establish measurable performance criteria,” Turner said. “I have never hired someone without giving them performance criteria and measurable milestones.”

Back when times were good, before hiring freezes and furloughs, employees received across-the-board annual raises of 5, 6, or even 7 percent or more without a basic performance review.

To increase salaries while the employee stays in the same job, the city uses a typical government step or level system.

If the employee moved up a step in any year, that increase was tacked onto the across-the-board raise.

Interim City Manager Monte Falls defended the practice of not performing formal reviews.

“I talk to my managers on a weekly basis,” Falls said. “I believe it’s better to criticize in private and praise in public.”

Falls’ statement hinted at a reminder to the Council that any and all performance reviews placed in employee files are, under the Florida Sunshine Act, public record.

He also brought up the fact that employees are currently not receiving raises, so there would be no monetary reward attached to a good or excellent review.

“You just have to be thoughtful when you put the process together that you consider these things,” he said.

Technically, only the Charter Officers are under the control of the City Council, but the Council can direct Falls to do certain things.

“It’s got to start very soon,” said Fletcher. “It’s got to trickle down to the rest of the corporation.”

The issue is scheduled to be taken up in a workshop to be held directly after the first March regular City Council meeting.

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