Ontario mayor, councilor find faults as they review city manager’s performance

Mayor Riley Hill was one of two councilors that gave low scores on a job performance review of City Manager Adam Brown late last year. (Angelina Katsanis/The Enterprise)

ONTARIO – When it came time to evaluate Ontario City Manager Adam Brown, City Councilor Michael Braden didn’t hold back.

The form councilors use grade performance on execution of city policy, professional skills and relations with councilors on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 the worst grade.

Braden gave Brown all fives.

Mayor Riley Hill, Council President Ken Hart and Councilors Eddie Melendrez and John Kirby also evaluated Brown.

Melendrez gave Brown all fives in all but one category. Kirby, recorded mostly fives or fours on Brown’s performance.

The evaluations delivered by Hart and Hill, though, differed significantly from their colleagues.

Hill gave Brown mostly three and fours – with a few fives – and then pasted a two-page, handwritten note to the evaluation listing a series of low-par performance issues from Brown.

Hart judged Brown’s performance with low marks – mostly twos, threes and fours.

The evaluations, completed in December and obtained recently from Brown, illustrate a wide chasm of perception among the councilors regarding the city’s top executive.

The evaluations also underscore the news Monday that Brown accepted the open city manager position in Keizer.

Braden said he stands by his top marks.

“It is not because I don’t want to provide him with criticism. It is just, literally, I thought through each question and I don’t think he has done anything to mark him down for,” said Braden.

Braden gave Brown top marks in individual characteristics, professional skills, relations with the council, policy execution and reporting. Braden also gave Brown fives in his relations with citizens, staffing, supervision and fiscal management.

In the evaluation, Braden wrote Brown is a “good communicator, rational problem solver, effective leader.”

“He has his shortcomings, but, over time, I think he does a very good job for the city of Ontario,” said Braden.

Braden also wrote on Brown’s evaluation he should “press on and thank you for serving Ontario!”

Kirby gave Brown top marks in individual characteristics along with fours and fives for professional skills and relations with the council.

Under the relations with the council category, Kirby wrote, “Our council is diverse in many ways to manage and enforce issues. I would call it very challenging. What works for me may or may not be sufficient for others. Not perfect, but still above average.”

Under policy execution, Kirby gave Brown a three in the category of “implements governing body actions in accordance with the intent of council.”

Kirby also gave Brown a 2.5 in the category of “Applies an appropriate level of supervision to improve any areas of substandard performance.”

Kirby listed Browns efforts to pay down the city’s PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) debts and his decisions on the use of marijuana tax money as particular strengths.

“Keep positive – if you need to talk – you know who you can trust,” Kirby wrote.

Melendrez wrote that Brown’s “willingness and adapt/professionals” are two key skills.

Melendrez wrote one area Brown needs to improve is in “expressing ideas, even if council or mayor have a different plan.”

Hart found Brown’s performance to be deficient in a number of categories.

Hart scored Brown a two regarding his ability to exercise good judgment and twos in his ability to maintain knowledge of current developments affecting local government management, and his capacity for innovation and creativity. He also gave Brown a two on his ability to anticipate and analyze problems and develop solutions.

He ranked Brown a two in his ability to set a professional example by handling affairs of the public office in a fair and impartial manner.

“There have been a number of occasions in the past year that I have had concerns about the judgment exercised by the city manager,” Hart wrote in his evaluation.

Hart also wrote he was unhappy with how Brown – and former police chief Steven Romero – have “addressed the issues arising from legislation coming out of Salem, specifically related to public camping and decriminalization of some drugs.”

“The city manager has not been forthright in addressing concerns about my interactions with him prior to raising concerns before a broader audience,” wrote Hart.

Hart also criticized Brown because he “has failed to communicate concerns to this member of the council in a constructive manner.”

Hill also posted a low score for Brown in providing information to the council and in responding to requests, advice and constructive criticism. He gave Brown twos in supporting the actions of the council after a decision has been reached and in his knowledge and understanding of the city’s laws, policies and ordinances.

Hill then listed 14 other issues with Brown’s performance on a separate sheet.

Those issues run the gamut from an assertion by Hill that Brown didn’t keep the city council informed about negotiations between the state and the city regarding water and sewer infrastructure at Snake River Correctional Institution to allowing police to use an “ordinance to issue fines for weeds or trash up to $227,000.”

In January 2021, Hill sued the city to overturn a nuisance finding that resulted in a $500 penalty for his company, Eldorado Investments Inc. He won his case.

Hill also criticized Brown for not reviewing the Ontario Rural Fire District contract for “years, resulting in significant under billing.”

Hill wrote Brown failed to “individually notify us of issues rather the report at council meetings.”

Hill said in an interview that he wasn’t sure why three other councilors gave Brown generally positive reviews.

“Everyone has a different perception. I can’t speak for them,” he said.

Hill said, though, that the evaluation was intended to “improve performance.”

“They are not meant to be mean or toxic,” he said.

Hill said he met with Brown after the he delivered his evaluation to discuss areas to improve.

“Communication, that was one of the things. I told him that if you have an issue and don’t know what to do with it, it is not a weakness to ask for advice because there are a lot of people on the council that have experience,” said Hill.

Hart said after the evaluations he and Brown went to lunch to talk about over Hart’s scores.

Hart said he, too, wanted to help Brown improve.

“In any evaluation, you try to be honest with the person. So, it is never fair to somebody to not to tell them. If you have an issue, you say, ‘hey, this is my concern.’ If you are going to give low scores or high scores they need to see why,” said Hart.

Hart admitted there were “communication issues” with Brown.

“But we are working through them,” said Hart.

Hart said Brown also gave feedback at the lunch meeting.

“He was very professional, which I appreciate,” said Hart.

Kirby said he thought Brown is doing a good job overall.

He said he believed the contrasting evaluations involved perceptions.

Kirby said he and Braden and Melendrez were evaluating from a 10,000-foot level.

“From 10,000 feet, you could probably give him fours and fives across the board. I think they (Hill and Hart) are used to making things more remedial,” said Kirby.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Two Ontario city councilors voice surprise over recent news city manager is a finalist for top job in Keizer

Riley Hill, mayor of Ontario, sues his own city over $500

Ontario mayor wins suit against his own city over nuisance citations

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