Wellington Village Council members submitted performance evaluations for Village Manager Paul Schofield and Village Attorney Laurie Cohen on Tuesday, but a majority of the council refrained from sharing their opinions publicly.
Despite widespread speculation last week that the council might decide to dismiss Schofield, no such action was taken.
While Councilman Howard Coates and Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said that they were prepared to publicly evaluate Schofield and Cohen, Mayor Bob Margolis, Vice Mayor John Greene and Councilman Matt Willhite said that they would refrain from commenting on their written evaluations, pointing out that they are public record, available for anyone to review.
Those evaluations, however, were not included in the meeting’s agenda backup.
Margolis said the annual evaluations give council members a chance to provide feedback to the only two employees whom they directly control.
“This is an evaluation, that’s all it is,” Margolis said. “That’s all the council has asked for. I, for one, am not going to go into my evaluation… These are evaluations I would like to work on with Paul and for him to work on with me.”
He added that they’re just part of the process. “Reviews are reviews,” Margolis said. “If you all want to discuss it, that’s fine, but I’m not going to.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said it was her understanding that the evaluations were supposed to be held publicly.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with hiring or firing or promotion,” Gerwig said. “This is our opinion of how we are working together, and I think it’s invaluable to have this discussion of our impression of how we are working together.”
Margolis said the evaluations were only individual opinions.
“Opinions and perceptions are different,” he said. “I don’t want to challenge those or question those because even though I might not understand them, they are very valid. I would assume all the opinions and perceptions are correct.”
Willhite said the evaluations are a follow-through of contractual obligations between the council and its employees.
“It says that we will do an annual evaluation,” Willhite said. “What was brought forward was a documented, written evaluation form. It was talked about and put out there for about six or eight weeks. It’s not like the time sneaks up on us. Every September comes and every budget comes every year, and the contracts with these two employees talk about the evaluation process.”
Willhite stressed that his discussion about the evaluations at a previous meeting was not political, but focused on the fact that it is supposed be done at the final meeting of the fiscal year.
“We can’t set a road map for hiring or firing in the future if we don’t know where we came from,” he said. “We can’t identify objectives or goals or areas for improvement if we haven’t identified where they need improvement. I think that’s all I asked for at the last meeting. I’ve submitted my evaluation. It’s part of the public record.”
Willhite said he had not asked to have the evaluations placed on the public agenda, but Margolis had decided to place it there.
Margolis said that he had originally intended to discuss the evaluations under the agenda’s “Council Comments” section, but with rumors circulating, he felt it would be better to have it as an agenda item. “My biggest concern was that people would say, ‘Well, I saw the agenda online, you didn’t give me forewarning that this was going to be a discussion. You didn’t give me an opportunity to come and speak,’” Margolis said.
Greene said he had had private conversations with Schofield and Cohen about his evaluation. “I think it’s very clear between our private conversations where I stand and what my feelings are,” he said.
Greene did, however, take the opportunity to berate local media for reporting residents’ concerns that Schofield might be targeted for firing. He said he had refrained from talking to reporters before the evaluations became public because he thought it inappropriate, and pointed out that the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General is available for residents to express their concerns.
“Until we have the opportunity to get the information to the right authorities and let them evaluate it, I’m not prepared to do anything but continue to work with Mr. Schofield and Ms. Cohen, and do what’s best for this village,” he said.
Coates said he believes that the public is entitled to hear the council’s opinions of the two employees it has responsibility for.
“I’m not going to go into detail, but I am going to do my evaluation, because I think it’s important for the public to know where I stand,” Coates said, starting with Schofield.
“I’ve worked with you almost six years, and I find you to be outstanding,” he said. “I think you have been very successful in navigating the village through what has indisputably been a very tough economic time… You were able to facilitate draconian cuts in our budget, while at the same time you, in my opinion, were still managing the delivery of our service in a way that most of the public felt that the impact was minimal.”
Although Coates opposed the four-day workweek, he said it was implemented in a way that was commendable.
“I think this village is in great financial shape, in large part due to your leadership and stewardship,” he told Schofield, adding that Schofield has always been available to him. “I’m not a micromanager. I like the big picture, and we spend a lot of time talking about the big picture. I let you handle the details.”
Coates’ only criticism was that he thought Schofield sometimes withheld his own opinions on issues.
“You have a difficult job managing five egos on this council,” he said. “I’ve always found you to be honest and forthright. The only thing that I will say that I have noticed over the last couple of years is that sometimes I think that your opinion has been somewhat muted and lost in the fog of the politics of this council. For me, that is something I would like you to improve on because I want to know that I am getting the complete, unfiltered information from you as our village manager.”
For goals, Coates said he wanted to continue to maintain the lean government that had evolved over the last four years.
“I want to make that we do not fall victim to that same trend that we see in a lot of other government agencies where there is continued growth and ultimately the bureaucracy itself becomes unmanageable,” he said.
Coates noted that some council members have raised concerns about his communication skills, and that Schofield should continue to try to improve in that area.
Regarding Cohen’s evaluation, Coates said he she had overcome a tremendous learning curve in the short time she has been village attorney.
“I have tremendous respect for you,” Coates said. “I think you have done very well at making the transition from the private sector and commercial litigation, and coming in and mastering what I consider a general counsel, general manager type of position.”
He added that she had also done a good job in the past 18 months getting up to speed in municipal law, which she had not been exposed to other than her experience as a former councilwoman.
“You’ve been very forthright with us,” Coates said. “If you didn’t know the answer, you would tell us that you didn’t know the answer and that you would research it, and I appreciate that.”
Gerwig also briefly touched on her evaluation, complimenting Greene for putting together the form. “It’s done in a thoughtful manner, and it does give us a very good road map for where we want to go,” she said. “It does disturb me when I have such different perceptions. I think we can all agree that’s confusing.”
Gerwig noted that she has weekly meetings with the manager because it helps her understand the issues.
“If that’s something that’s unique to me, I think it’s appropriate for everyone to have that access to the manager equally,” she said. “When I see in other people’s reviews that they don’t feel that way, that does concern me, but that’s why we’re here having this conversation.”
ABOVE: Village Manager Paul Schofield