Secret: Council members evaluate David Hales

by:  Diane Benjamin

Usually the public doesn’t get to know how the Council evaluates City Manager David Hales.  These discussions take place in Executive Sessions – secret meetings – then the Council votes NOT to release the minutes to the public.  Evidently they don’t want anybody to know what they think.  Surprise – now you know.

This information will be important later!  Don’t forget what they say.

Mayor Renner decided to email the Council and have them answer 3 questions about David Hales in advance of his annual evaluation.  Most of the Alderman responded to him by email.  I obtained all of the following under the Freedom of Information Act.  The three questions asked are in Jim Fruin’s response below.  I did not receive responses from Aldermen Lower and Schmidt.  I’m not sure I received a complete email written by Judy Stearns.

Note how often “Culture Change” is mentioned.  These emails were from shortly after the November retreat where the Council was told about “Culture Change”.  They were told they had to “have David Hales back”.  It looks like they were on board in December.  In March they found out what “Culture Change” was – 17 new employees and much more spending.  The public was rightfully outraged, so they backed down on part of the increase.

Don’t forget, Hales got a big raise shortly after these emails.  Many of the emails say Hales micro-manages the City.  Supposedly morale is low among the City employees, if your boss micro-manged you – how would your morale be?

These emails clearly show why 7 of the 9 Council members represent David Hales instead of their Wards, most adore Hales.  The potted plants will continue to vote yes on anything Hales wants.  The emails also back up assertions made by Lower and Stearns that information is not provided to them when they ask.


Jim Fruin:

1) What do you consider the city manager’s greatest strengths and accomplishments over the last year?  Financial management, accountability, good at being “politically correct in not alienating others”, multi-tasking to keep many balls in the air and moving forward.
2) How could the city manager have improved on his performance over the last year? (Please be as specific as possible) Be more responsive to the requests of Aldermen (for which I have requests still pending). Getting out in the community more than just those events where his presence is expected.
3) What areas would you like to see the city manager improve upon in the upcoming year? Be more open with Aldermen and more willing to share information. Be more trusting of Staff and let them take responsibility for more items in their respective arenas without being so guarded of their decisions and actions. Strive at maintaining Staff morale, to include having an Employee Opinion survey, which has been resisted in the past. This is common practice in the Private sector. Ald Fruin

Respectfully, and with much appreciation for David’s leadership and results.

Rob Fazzini

1.      His accomplishments were both numerous and impressive, especially with the management team he inherited.  Now that he has been given the authority to reorganize and move the department head people out of positions for which he does not feel they are qualified, I believe that he will be able to improve the tone of how the department heads and therefore the city employees serve the city.  His greatest strength might be his ability to “get things done” despite the less than consistent direction from his city council.

2.      The transition of Mayors seemed to pose more of a challenge for David that was necessary.  My sources tell me that he actively lobbied against one of the main planks in your campaign, which was to issue a $10 million bond for street work in 2014.  This was an error in judgment in two respects:  First, it went counter to what our citizens clearly indicated was needed.  Second, he was dealing in the area of policy which is not his area to deal in.  That is for the Mayor and City Council to decide.

3.      There are three areas where improvement should take place:  First, he need to delegate to his management team more.  We are past the financial crisis where all decisions needed to be approved by David.  I understand he needs first to get “his management team” in place, but he will need to change his management style and I have not seen any progress in this area yet.  Second, he needs to improve the relationship with the Town of Normal City Manager (I can elaborate if necessary).  Third, the media relations area is still in serious need of improvement, especially with The Pantagraph.

As an aside, his performance evaluation needs to be one appropriate for a CEO, not the typical fill in the blanks and check boxes that is done for all other employees.  I have been evaluated as a CEO, and I have evaluated Executive Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and the History Museum as CEOs.  The two main differences in the CEO level evaluations are these:  First, the CEO is the only one in an organization who is given the freedom to determine how much to work on developing his strengths versus improving his weaknesses.  If the CEO feels that his weaknesses are not hindering the accomplishment of the organization goals, then he will concentrate on taking advantage of his strengths.  The decision is his and only his, which is not feasible for any other  people in an organization who need to be guided on whether to concentrate on using strengths or improving weaknesses.  Second, the CEO performance evaluation should be a one page narrative with the Mayor emphasizing what needs to be emphasized in the proportions he feels appropriate.  The fill in the blanks and check boxes approach completely ignores this important aspect of decided what should be emphasize and in what portions.  Ald Fazzini

David Sage

What do you consider the city manager’s greatest strengths and accomplishments over the last year?
Exceptional policy and business and financial acumen
Supportive of the Mayor and City Council
Deals positively and professionally with disrespectful people, especially aldermen
Work ethic
Sets big goals and drives to achieve them, i.e. the current City Manager Action Plan
He looks for results, trying to find ways to get to solve problems rather than passing them along

FY14 City Manager Action Plan Accomplishments
Stormwater Master Plan
Sanitary Sewer Master Plan
Downtown Master Plan
Downtown Nightlife Study

2014 Significant Accomplishments
Hiring of new Police Chief and exceptional community engagement process.
BFD Staffing Assessment, a much needed benchmark.
Continued Economic Development progress with Hy-Vee and Ashley Furniture.
Continued collaboration with Normal City Manager and County Administrator.
Continued strong performance of TPA Claims Adjustment Services.
Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals Hermes Gold Award for City Manager’s Monthly Report.
CIAM generated a net FY13 operating income surplus.
Continued City Manager professional development.

How could the city manager have improved on his performance over the last year? (Please be as specific as possible)
Solid Waste Program
Overall the effort by City Staff to move this forward with delivering options and a recommendation to the Council was exceptional. However there seemed to be an inability to respond to Council input and revise the consultant deliverable. For example there didn’t seem to be willingness to explore reducing some service levels to reduce overall cost, weekly bulk waste vs. bi-weekly or monthly. Perhaps Staff believed this was the Council responsibility, which I can accept. However to do this I needed more detailed cost information.
Review and Release of Executive Session Minutes
While the City Clerk was completely accountable for this failure, the City Manager is responsible. Have we confirmed there aren’t any other potential compliance issues?

What areas would you like to see the city manager improve upon in the upcoming year?
Development of Senior Management Team, especially critical with the Revitalizing City Government initiative.
Delivery of Capital Improvement Plan, with acknowledgement that many master plans and completed Staff work this year have laid the needed groundwork for this.
Ald Sage

Jennifer McDade

1) What do you consider the city manager’s greatest strengths and accomplishments over the last year?
·  continues to provide strong financial leadership; conservative approach to gauging revenues against expenditures
·  commitment to economic development
·  continues to develop performance measures across the city departments
·  has made some excellent key strategic hires and mentored them/encouraged them
accordingly (e.g., Justine Robinson, Alex McElroy, Patti-Lynn Silva)
·  moved our labor attorney negotiations to Jim Baird & his colleagues, which has improved
our understanding of contracts as well as the quality of negotiations
·  continued work on our big challenges (storm water & sewer master plans)
·  attention to development of collaborative relationships with other individuals in key
government and community posts
·  increased engagement with the media
·  improvement in our city brand, e.g., improved web site, city hall aesthetics, and taping of
Council sessions
·  in general, a strong 360 view of the work of the city  where we excel and where we need
to apply resources
·  involvement in the most significant regional and national groups and conferences
·  making some difficult and important personnel changes/selection
2) How could the city manager have improved on his performance over the last year? (Please be as specific as possible)
I continue to be concerned that David is too engaged in the minutiae of city work. There is no way one person could respond personally to all the e-mails or oversee all the details of city programs. He has been relinquishing some of this to his admin staff, and I encourage him to do more of that.
I encourage a different approach to large long-term programs so that the Council and citizens have a lot of facts upfront. Solid waste is an example where it would have been helpful to know the basic details of cart sizes and costs, and service costs for components such as bulk waste, at the beginning of planning rather than now.
3) What areas would you like to see the city manager improve upon in the upcoming year?
I encourage David to continue to let his administrative team deal with details. I value David’s experience and perspectives as a city manager and want to be sure he gives himself the time to focus fully on high level activities.
I suggest we consider appointing someone as the city ombudsman to whom all questions go for answering or referral. In the past, Barb Adkins fulfilled this role. She gained a broad perspective of citizens’ concerns that she was able to share with the city manager and the Council, an excellent connection with neighborhoods, and established a high level of quick service-oriented response to our residents.
I would like to see David find a way to develop a stronger more proactive communications plan, including putting more information on our web site and reaching out in different ways (including social media) to our residents.
It is my impression that at times the Council itself causes problems for departments in responding to city concerns. If we are too demanding or have overly- ambitious expectations of city staff, we need to know this so we can collectively change how we interact with city staff.
I want to underscore how much I value David’s leadership, his commitment to making our city the best it can be, and the ease with which we can talk through ideas with him and seek feedback. He makes many very tough decisions, is able to realign staff work
according to Council’s votes and expectations, and adapts to many different environments. He has taken our evaluative comments to heart in his work, and also shown us different ways to look at city issues. In addition to his breadth and depth of knowledge, David continues to exhibit the highest ethical standards, something we should all value a great deal.
Ald Schmidt

Scott Black

1) What do you consider the city manager’s greatest strengths and accomplishments over the last year?
I think Mr Hales is smart and capable. Having only worked with him for about 7 months, I don’t have the in depth experiences as other members. I would say that his biggest accomplishment is adjusting to the new council and mayor. The approach of the Council and Mayor is different than the past, and Mr. Hales appears to be willing and able to adjust his style and approach for the new direction.

2) How could the city manager have improved on his performance over the last year? (Please be as specific as possible)
Although I’m more sympathetic how easy we get off topic and priorities since being elected, I would like to see us push through some of the “noise”. Mr. Hales needs to continue to strive to delegate responsibilities to his staff. Mr. Hales needs oversee and ensure that the basics are followed (Open Meetings Act issues, posting of agendas, updating the website, responding to Council/Citizen Emails), so we can focus on the long term goals. I’d like to see David push back to the Council more when we’re not being clear about direction.

3) What areas would you like to see the city manager improve upon in the upcoming year?
Following through on the Culture Change discussion. To me, everything the City does will be impacted by this change. It’s going to take courage, it’s going to require tough decisions, and it’s not an overnight process. That being said, I’d like to see a timeline and follow through on the principles of this change discussed at the November retreat.

Ald Black

Mboka Mwilambwe

1) What do you consider the city manager’s greatest strengths and accomplishments over the last year?

Willingness to help me as a council member to address issues in my ward; he is always courteous, supportive and available upon request. He will even from time to time ask if there is anything he can do to be helpful.

He has continued to put the city on strong financial footing by emphasizing fiscal discipline throughout the organization.

He has a difficult position in that he has to manage the demands of many. Every two years, he has to deal with what is essentially a new council, yet he does so in a way that is tactful.

Great technical knowledge of the issues. He is always able to provide me with excellent insight and is forthcoming, even when the news is not great.

David is very good at identifying the right people for the jobs that are needed. I have been impressed with the hires he has made as part of his executive team during my tenure on the council. Even his choice of facilitator for our retreats is outstanding. David simply has a very good eye for talent.

I also appreciate the fact that David is thoughtful with how he deals with staff. Staff morale and dignity is very important to me. It is a very delicate balance that can be easily disrupted and can be hard to restore.

We also can not underestimate that David has been able to make staff (that he did not hire) very productive. This can be one of the most difficult things to do in an organization. In that sense, the turnaround of the city’s financial fortunes is amazing.

David has brought more planning to the city’s work. I am particular appreciative of his development of long term plans such as storm sewers, pensions, facilities, sidewalks to help us fully understand the city’s position and how to address the many structural imbalances we have. It is especially important that he has been able to deliver on a pension policy for the council to vote on. I am sensing that the council and city have experienced improved credibility since then, which can be the foundation for greater accomplishments.

I also found David to be willing to address potentially difficult issues such as intergovernmental agreements or annexation agreements to try to reposition the city financially to whatever extent possible.

2) How could the city manager have improved on his performance over the last year? (Please be as specific as possible)

I think David is an excellent city manager. If he has one weakness, it is that he is too humble. He simply goes about the work that needs to be done and does not take the time to let the public know about it. I think the upcoming hiring of a communications manager would allow him the time to develop a strategy and communicate his (and the city’s) accomplishments more systematically. As I read his accomplishments, I was amazed by how much he has done. I would suggest keeping that list running and sharing it quarterly as it is easy for many of us to get caught up in the crisis of the day and forget about the good things that have been accomplished.

As staff turnover continues to occur, this will also allow David an opportunity to further put his imprint on staff for even greater effectiveness.

3) What areas would you like to see the city manager improve upon in the upcoming year?

For a number of years, David has focused on addressing our city’s structural imbalances, first financially, then our long term planning and finally staffing (under way). I am now hoping for a more assertive role from the city in working to improving our local economy. Staff in this area have shown great promise and I believe it will serve us well to provide them with more tools to deliver greater results in this area.

Ald. Mwilambwe

Judy Stearns

However, in terms of successes,

I would mention the fact that we do have automated recycle and impending automated refuse pickup.

Second, on successes, I have seen a major improvement in customer service from the standpoint of giving
us a timeline and completing reasonable customer requests.  This began in May of this year and has continued.

On goals, I would place as a number one goal that Bloomington should have a AAA bond rating as other
cities our size do, Champaign coming to mind, a city with an unemployment higher than ours and a lower
median income.

On goals, I would also mention a turnaround in the way data is shared, specifically when specific questions about
city metrics are requested.

Ald Stearns






2 thoughts on “Secret: Council members evaluate David Hales

  1. Rob Fazinnis” #3 reference to the city manager getting his “management team” in place seems to be progressing rapidly. Anyone else keeping track of all the management resignations/retirements taking place recently? The latest being Craig Cummings leaving as Water Dept Director. Oh, and Emily Bell Human Resources Director………

    1. Get rid of the people who have lived in this town for years. Bring in a bunch of out-of-towners that have no loyalty and will follow the Hales agenda or they’re out the door as well. Hales the five year transient taking control of our city. Is that the culture change Renner keeps talking about? Top down control.

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