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Gresham council says city attorney has improved

City Manager Erik Kvarsten, Auditor David Dean are praised

After a rocky review last year, Gresham City Attorney Susan Bischoff received a mixed evaluation on Thursday, Nov. 30.

On a scale of one to five - one being unsatisfactory and five being outstanding - Bischoff's overall score was 3.8, indicating she is meeting her job's standards, according to evaluation documents.

During last year's annual review, councilors highly ranked City Manager Erik Kvarsten and while giving Bischoff a poorer rating. David Dean, the city's first auditor, was not reviewed because he'd just been hired that May and had only been on the job half a year.

This August, all three city employees received favorable mid-year reviews, with councilors noting improvements in Bischoff's performance.

During this week's review, at least one councilor indicated a belief that Bischoff has continued to improve.

'We're over the hurdle with her,' wrote one unidentified councilor.

Another councilor disagreed.

'She is a good staff attorney and her understanding has improved,' wrote the councilor. '…. but the city needs a land-use expert at the top of the department and someone who is a better legal spokesperson for the city attorney function.'

Councilor comments were not identified in the summary review drafted by Steve Bryant, a facilitator hired by the council to help evaluate the city manager, attorney and auditor. All three positions are appointed by and report directly to the City Council, meaning councilors can hire and fire them.

In addition, the council reviewed all three employees on Thursday evening in a continuation of a new evaluation process.

The process involves regular meetings with each of the three employees to go over improvement plans and set performance goals monitored by a rotating subcommittee of councilors. Bryant then individually interviewed all seven city councilors, as well as each city employee regarding their respective job performance.

On Thursday night, Kvarsten and Dean again received rave reviews, with respective average scores of 4.2 and 4.3.

The mood shifted, however, when it was time for Bischoff's evaluation.

Speaking on behalf of the council, Councilor Shirley Craddick told Bischoff her composite score of 3.8 was not higher for three reasons.

• Style - 'Your advice does not always include options, and on occasion, your delivery feels abrasive and on the verge of disrespect. This annoys certain councilors.'

• Customer service and risk adversity - Her staff's 'bunker mentality' to citizen issues or other department concerns gives the impression that her staff is worried that talking to citizens and business owners would put the city at risk. 'This slows the work of the city and frustrates and angers citizens,' Craddick said. 'We feel your department significantly contributes to this culture. We need this to change. The city needs to have a more open and transparent culture.'

• Land use - Although the city's land-use attorney has improved, 'there is a ways to go before council is totally confident in your department's (land use) advice,' Craddick said. 'Advice, particularly in hearings, is delivered without confidence and lacks conviction. This undermines the council's confidence.' She cited a hearing regarding a proposed subdivision called Darby Ridge as an example. 'Your legal advice was outgunned by outside counsel, in the opinion of many.'

Bischoff declined to comment on her evaluation other than to say she considers performance reviews private.

As for raises, the council subcommittees have yet to negotiate Kvarsten's or Bischoff's. Councilors already gave Dean a raise when they approved his contract on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The contract grants him a 10.5-percent merit raise, which retroactive to July 1 boosted his yearly salary from $75,084 to $83,000. He made $73,035 a year when hired by the city in May 2005. The council is still deciding on a cost-of-living raise for him.

Dean's audit on fire department overtime use and management received the Knighton Gold Award for excellence in performance auditing by the National Association of Local Government Auditors in March.