The Coastal Star

HIGHLAND BEACH: Commission holds off on changing evaluation process

By Steve Plunkett

                  Uncertainty over how long Dale Sugerman will remain town manager led town commissioners not to change the employee evaluation system.

                  “I don’t think we should make changes of anything that would jeopardize whoever’s going to be there, whether it’s this town manager or some other town manager,
until we have a commitment from somebody, some town manager, that they’re going
to be here for a while,” Mayor Jim Newill said at the December commission
meeting.

                   During budget discussions in August, Sugerman proposed a yearlong experiment of not having evaluations, saying he was the only town supervisor who routinely gave less than “excellent” ratings.
In return, he said, some department heads threatened lawsuits.

                  The suggestion drew strong opposition from commissioners and residents alike. Someone spoke against the proposal at almost every meeting.

                  “You cannot operate any kind of a business without evaluations,” resident Joseph Asselta said in September.

                  “I think people need to be told what kind of job they are doing. If they are doing a good job, say so. If they are not, say where they need to improve and work on
it,” former Mayor Arlin Voress said at another meeting that month.

                  In November, Commissioner John Pagliaro suggested forming a citizens advisory board to help devise a new evaluation form; Newill said hiring a consultant
would be more effective.

                  The next month Newill said the problem was with the process, not the paperwork. He had met with department heads and none had a problem with the evaluation form,
he said.

                  Sugerman offered an explanation. “Virtually all employees get virtually all ‘excellent’ scores from all department heads. And I think that’s why the department heads
have no problem with the form,” he said. “They’re able to easily fill it out
with minimal effort and virtually grant everybody ‘excellent’ in all
categories.”

                  The town manager repeated that he was the only one to use the full range of ratings and said he had backed off his recommendation to suspend the program.

                  “I said, that’s fine. If all the department heads want to give everybody excellents all the time and give maximum raises, that’s fine, because that
seems to be where the Town Commission is going,” Sugerman said.

                  Resident Joe Cannazaro said there still was a problem. “If you’ve got a system where everybody is rated the same, then you don’t have a system,” he said.

                  Questions over Sugerman’s tenure popped up when he told commissioners he would be a free agent after June 8 when his contract expires, Newill said. The contract can be
extended in one-year increments, but commissioners don’t want to lengthen it
before the March election so new commissioners can weigh in. But current
commissioners will evaluate Sugerman before the election, Newill said.

                  Earlier in the meeting, commissioners approved the first reading of an ordinance that would enable a special magistrate to grant zoning variances. The town’s current
system, decided by the Board of Adjustment and Appeals, has resulted in
different rulings on similar cases, they said. A final hearing will take place
in January.

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