January 24, 2013 | Volume 43, No.3

Earnest scores a 'satisfactory'

The Haines Borough Assembly gave manager Mark Earnest a “satisfactory” evaluation Tuesday, a decision that came during an executive session at a committee of the whole meeting.

Mayor Stephanie Scott announced the decision during the regular assembly meeting that followed the closed-door session, but did not elaborate.

Based on interviews after the meetings, it appears the satisfactory determination relied heavily on an average of numeric scores from performance evaluations submitted by assembly members. The determination effectively extends Earnest’s contract until July 2014.

The evaluation released by the borough shows assembly members gave Earnest middling scores on eight parts of his job.

Assembly members ranked Earnest on a scale of 1 through 5, with respective numbers on the scale equivalent to “unsatisfactory,” “improvement needed,” “meets job standards,” “exceeds job standards” and “outstanding.”

Averaged, Earnest’s scores were: 3.45 on intergovernmental affairs, 3.17 on public relations, 3.16 on fiscal management, 3.13 on personal traits, 3.13 on administration relations, 2.98 on personnel management and labor relations, 2.75 on “quantity/quality” (of work), and 2.58 on communication.

The average of Earnest’s composite scores was 3.04.

Assembly members completed individual evaluations of Earnest’s performance, which were then compiled by Mayor Stephanie Scott into a composite evaluation depicting averages and ranges of the scores for the various categories. Assembly members also could indicate “no opportunity to observe” in a category if they felt they did not have enough information to score Earnest.

Compared to Earnest’s 2011 evaluation, composite scores saw a decrease in every category except administration relations.

In an interview after the assembly meeting, assembly member Joanne Waterman said the decreases were not large enough to be considered significant. Waterman said overall Earnest was meeting her expectations for the job.

In an interview Wednesday, Earnest said he thought the composite averages indicated he was doing a good job.

“It’s a good place to be, because it’s fair. It isn’t a grade letter like in school or anything. It’s doing a good job…I think ‘satisfactory’ means doing a good job,” Earnest said.

The composite evaluation also revealed the range of scores in each category. For several categories, such as “delegates responsibilities appropriately” and “effectively evaluates performance of employees,” the range was 2-3, indicating general consensus. In other categories, such as “integrity” (1-5) and “amount of work performed” (1-4), the numbers seemed to demonstrate a polarization of assembly opinion.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, assembly member Dave Berry said he would not characterize Earnest as a divisive figure on the assembly. Assembly member Debra Schnabel, however, said she “wouldn’t say that he is consciously polarizing. But he has a polarizing effect.”

 “(Earnest’s) approach to problem-solving is very open and fluid and he surrounds himself with supporters who think and behave like he does. And those people who approach problem-solving in a much more logical and analytic way find Mark’s approach hard to deal with. What happens is Mark surrounds himself with very loyal supporters and they defend his approach, and there is an alienation that takes place,” Schnabel said.

Earnest attributed some of the larger ranges to differences in opinion, and said he did not believe they indicated a divided assembly. “People have different things that they may be looking for. There are different perspectives. I don’t see it as being indicative of a split. It’s normal,” Earnest said.

As far as some of the lower scores and his composite averages dropping almost across the board, Earnest said he doesn’t take evaluations too personally.

“I don’t personalize evaluations, I guess. I take it as constructive criticism, whether on the positive or not. I don’t personalize those things. I try to learn from them. I don’t get mired down in the weeds, so to speak, in terms of who said what,” Earnest said.

The composite evaluation also charted the total number of comments generated in each of the eight categories, with a breakdown of how many focused on accomplishments and how many focused on concerns.

Each category, except fiscal management, had more comments focusing on concerns than accomplishments, though personal traits and intergovernmental affairs had equal numbers. Of the 33 total comments received, 24 focused on concerns and suggestions for improvement.

While assembly members did not offer public explanation of their decisions regarding Earnest’s evaluation or contract extension, some assembly members spoke to the CVN concerning Earnest’s evaluation prior to the closed-door meeting.

Steve Vick expressed overall approval of the manager’s performance over the past year, citing his consistency and ability to take all perspectives into account. Vick said a weakness of Earnest’s would be follow-through on communications from the public, a complaint he has heard from various constituents.

  “That is something I have pointed out. Whether it’s a phone call or an email or an in-person visit, we don’t want to give the impression that we’re not available,” Vick said.

  Berry agreed “lack of communication with the public is (Earnest’s) biggest negative,” but said his positive traits included plenty of connections with Alaska officials and a strong work ethic. Berry said his personal ratings were mostly in line with the averaged ratings on the composite evaluation.

Assembly member Norm Smith, who was not present at the meeting and did not participate in Tuesday’s decision, discussed the contract extension and performance evaluation with the CVN via email prior to the meeting. Smith said Earnest applied for a job as the Lake and Peninsula borough manager and traveled to King Salmon to interview for the position. The job went to another applicant.

“In my humble opinion, this doesn’t set well for a person who has no ties to the community, and has changed his mind three times in the past 15 months, rents a house, and owns nothing in Haines after three years of employment. And this guy wants a contract extension?  His current one does not expire until June 2013. What guarantee does the borough of Haines have that he will be here until June?” Smith said.

  Smith said extending the contract so far out from its expiration would set a dangerous precedent for future managers. Haines resident Paul Nelson expressed the same concern during the regular meeting’s public comment period.

Earnest addressed the issue of his applying to other jobs in a Wednesday interview.

“It was more just to do some exploration. It had nothing to do with my commitment to staying here. In fact I would not have accepted any job pending the outcome of my evaluation,” Earnest said.

The assembly did vote publicly during the regular meeting on a motion to forward Earnest’s contract to the Personnel Committee for review. The personnel committee – composed of Smith, Vick and Waterman – will review Earnest’s contract during a meeting this spring.