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Council gives leaders high scores

Gresham city manager and city attorney receive favorable evaluations

Two thumbs up, way up.

That's the overall feedback Gresham city councilors gave the city manager and city attorney during their annual evaluations.

City Manager Erik Kvarsten, who has served as the city's top official since 2004, received an average score of 4.8 out of 5, with 5 being 'above expectations.' City Attorney David Ris, the city's top legal official since 2009, received an average score of 4.4 out of 5.

Councilors called Kvarsten a 'professional catch,' adding that despite the economy testing his leadership, he remains a polished executive, according to a document summarizing the evaluation.

'He deals with an immense amount of responsibilities in a very admirable way,' councilors noted. '… He has lost a lot of key people this past year and it is time consuming to get people back on board. Erik does an excellent job, given the tools he has to work with.'

The council also noted that Kvarsten has so streamlined City Hall operations that 'it is now so much easier to be a councilor and just focus on policy.'

Councilors did express concern that Kvarsten will burn out.

'With an extremely lean budget, Erik is good at pinching pennies - sometimes to his detriment,' they noted, adding that the hiring of an assistant city manager, which councilors approved during their summer retreat, has been a slow process, in part because of the budget considerations.

Ris was praised as 'very thorough, approachable and receptive …' who is always 'firm but fair' in negotiated settlements with outside parties. Councilors said he has done an excellent job working with this year's charter review committee - even discovering an election error in which the city mistakenly thought voters approved creating an auditor position, when in fact it had not.

'We're lucky to have him,' councilors noted.

One of the few criticisms came from four of the council's seven members, who expressed concern about the recent ruling against the city in a lawsuit filed by Portland General Electric, NW Natural and Rockwood Water People's Utility District over an increase in the utility license fee that took effect July 1.

'I'm not sure I would have proceeded if I fully knew the risks, and I feel he didn't apprise or brief the Council of the risks involved,' one councilor said. Another councilor specifically asked if the city can legally raise the license fee and was assured the city could.

New contracts for the two positions have not yet been presented to the council for approval, so it's uncertain whether they will receive raises. However, Kvarsten has a history of turning town pay raises in light of the poor economy. Kvarsten, who makes $134,916 a year, turned down merit-based raises in 2006 and 2009.

City spokeswoman Laura Shepard pointed out that Kvarsten and Ris, who makes $118,332 a year, are both 'below market for their respective positions.'