Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson deserves praise for his budget skills, staff recruitment and understanding of legislative issues, according to his latest report card from the City Council.
But council members also criticized Tacoma’s six-year chief administrator for failing to develop a clear economic development strategy and for keeping them in the dark at times about significant issues.
“No clearly articulated business plan has been presented to describe how the city will recruit companies to Tacoma and help existing businesses grow,” the review said. “Very little information is shared about ongoing activities and initiatives.”
The evaluation, which covers Anderson’s work from July 2010 to the present, is a collaborative but anonymous document that incorporates critiques and commentary from the city’s nine elected council members.
Required under the city’s charter, the annual review is a precursor to the council’s decision about extending Anderson’s contract, which expires this month. The council is set to consider an 18-month extension at today’s regular meeting, and some members have questions.
“Some council members rate the relationship between (Anderson) and Council as good, but in decline,” one remark in the review noted. “Communication to the council is perceived as a serious weakness with significant room for improvement and opportunity to repair relationships.”
Several council members, who have remained tight-lipped about the evaluation process, declined comment or didn’t return calls Monday.
Councilwoman Lauren Walker, a supporter of Anderson, said Monday that she doesn’t believe his contract renewal will be an issue.
“My experience is evaluations always have a mixed area of praise and areas of needs of improvement,” she said. “This evaluation reflects that.”
Anderson, in a prepared statement Monday, called his job a “privilege” and accepted the review as a way to improve performance.
“I am very grateful to the council for their hard work and candor,” he said. “As in previous years, I commit myself to using their appraisal to do a better job.”
This year’s mixed review is more critical than last year’s report card. It provided 16 pages of feedback – including several contradictory comments from among the nine – and two pages of goals. Areas evaluated included human resources and fiscal management, and relationships with the mayor, council, public and intergovernmental entities. A point-ranking system used in past evaluations was dropped two years ago.
Anderson’s budgeting work, accessibility and responsiveness to the council’s questions about specific issues generally drew high praise.
Anderson is “well-respected in his field;” “remains highly capable of managing the budget during challenging economic times,” and “overall, public feedback is mostly positive,” the review noted.
Under his watch, the city has had a significant reduction in crime, completed a $30 million remodel of Cheney Stadium and committed support to several major projects, including the Elks on Broadway development and Pacific Avenue improvements, it added.
Among criticisms, the evaluation cited Anderson’s periodic failures “to adequately alert the Council to pending public relations issues” and a need to improve relationships with community, business and government groups.
Cited as a “major concern,” one remark criticized Anderson and his top economic development staff for failing to develop clear strategies with key Tacoma business development groups.
“Long-term economic development strategic planning is weak, and execution is a hodgepodge of efforts,” one comment said. “It often feels as though the city lacks innovation and is stuck in a decades-old model built on subsidies and free parking.”
The review also cited a reactive approach to media relations and made reference to recent issues that have garnered headlines – and caught some council members off guard.
Anderson and his communications staff “recently revealed information about the Zina Linnik tragedy, and (Anderson’s) handling of it caused confusion, seemed to erode public trust and was perceived as damaging to the city’s reputation,” it said.
Another remark added that a “lack of long range planning” caused “mis-steps with the Cheney Stadium remodel and the parking garage at the Tacoma Dome.”
Listed among goals, the evaluation directed Anderson to significantly increase the number of conferences at the city’s Convention Center over the next two years and “explore interest in an additional hotel” downtown.
Other goals included completing an inventory of historic properties, drawing three new manufacturing businesses to town by the end of 2012 and revamping the city’s website to be more customer-friendly.
Hired in 2005 after serving as city manager in Des Moines, Iowa, Anderson, 65, oversees Tacoma’s day-to-day city operations, more than 2,100 employees and a $399 million general fund budget. Under his current contract, he gets a $236,373 annual salary and a $550 monthly car allowance.
Shortly before a city employee wage freeze kicked in this year, Anderson took a 17.4 percent raise – or $35,000 more in yearly pay – that he’d previously deferred due to city budget woes.