As manager, Earnest serves as the borough’s personnel director. He is responsible for supervising and evaluating about a dozen of the municipality’s upper-level employees, including department heads and three borough “officers”: police chief Gary Lowe, clerk Julie Cozzi and chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart.
The issue of the evaluations arose during recent discussions of Earnest’s own evaluation, said assembly member Dave Berry. “The assembly has talked to the manager and we’ve expressed our desire to have evaluations... He has his marching orders,” Berry said.
Earnest this week said he started compiling information for evaluations “awhile ago,” but got sidetracked. “They didn’t get finished. We got busy on the budget, we got busy on other things. It was just incomplete…It’s just something that didn’t get done,” he said.
Earnest acknowledged conducting evaluations is “part of what’s required of me” and said he is in the process of completing those evaluations, which should be done within a month.
The requirement for evaluations isn’t specifically addressed in Earnest’s contract, but is listed under the manager’s duties in borough code. The requirement also is laid out in the contracts of the three officers, who work for the assembly but are supervised by the manager.
Assembly member Steve Vick, who has served on the assembly for six years, said he didn’t know about the lack of evaluations, but said there will inevitably be issues assembly members are unaware of.
“The assembly deals with a lot of stuff with budgets and long-term planning and there’s going to be things we miss… If something like this is getting overlooked, it might be because it’s not a big issue and there’s other things going on,” Vick said in an interview Wednesday.
Though Vick said it isn’t his job, or any assembly member’s job, to be privy to everything going on at the borough, he said the assembly will “seriously look into” the issue if an oversight has been made.
As part of their January evaluation of Earnest that ultimately extended his contract until July 2014, assembly members were asked to rank the manager from 1 to 5 in the category of “effectively evaluates performance of employees.” He received an average score of 2.5 from six assembly members.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel said the assembly is partly to blame for the lack of evaluations.
“The assembly is culpable. We evaluated the manager and specifically marked him as 2.5 in that area…When in fact we didn’t do our research to find out if it had been done,” Schnabel said.
“He didn’t volunteer that he hadn’t (conducted the evaluations). And we didn’t check to see if he had. In a way, it makes many things about the evaluation process suspect,” she added.
Vick said the larger evaluation category of “Personnel Management and Labor Relations,” which contains the subcategory regarding performance evaluations, is one of the toughest for assembly members to evaluate.
“Personnel matters are one of the things we are removed from. We really don’t try to get involved in personnel matters… The concern is it’s not for the assembly to micromanage or get involved in,” Vick said.
According to the contracts of the police chief, clerk and chief fiscal officer, Earnest is required to conduct a performance evaluation of each annually. A written performance evaluation procedure is to be approved by the assembly prior to each evaluation, and a confidential copy of the completed evaluation “shall be shown to the Borough Assembly.”
Assemblywoman Schnabel pointed to recent complaints that have been made by police department personnel against Chief Lowe as a reason for maintaining an employee evaluation system.
“When you learn that there are problems in the department and discover also that there has been no evaluation conducted during the tenure of the police chief, that is very disconcerting,” Schnabel said. The importance of evaluations is that “so things just don’t erupt out of nowhere,” she said.
Vick said he does not recall receiving performance evaluations of officers from previous manager Tom Bolen, either. Bolen signed the original contracts held by Lowe, Cozzi and Stuart.
Chief fiscal officer Stuart said she, Lowe and Cozzi were not under contract until March 2009, when Bolen implemented the contract system containing the clause about managers evaluating officers.
Stuart also said she does not remember Bolen ever conducting a performance evaluation.
Assembly member Joanne Waterman said though she has not seen any performance evaluations, “it hasn’t been presented to me, as an assembly person, as a problem. So I haven’t given an extreme amount of thought to it at this time.”
Berry said procedures like this sometimes “fall through the cracks,” and Waterman expressed a similar sentiment.
“Assembly members change and managers change, and there’s a lot of that ritual that needs to be paid attention to again. And I know this assembly, along with the Mayor, is trying to get that outline back in place. This is just one more thing that’s been pointed out that needs to be done, and it sounds like it is being addressed,” Waterman said.