For 20 years, Hilton Head town manager Steve Riley typically breezed through his annual evaluations. But things changed after David Bennett was elected mayor in 2014.
Bennett pushed to change the way Riley, the town manager since 1995, was evaluated, directing a Town Council committee to come up with a new, more detailed review process.
But Riley has received only one approved evaluation since Bennett took office. His 2016 review was never finalized, and no evaluation has been started this year.
Meanwhile, Riley has been an unsuccessful candidate since last summer for at least four out-of-state government positions, and Town Council secretly hired a Columbia-based law firm to offer legal advice on Riley’s employment situation.
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The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette recently obtained Riley’s 2015 evaluation under the state’s open-records law. Nancy Gasen, director of human resources for the town, gave this explanation on how the review process works:
The first step in the evaluation process involves Riley completing a self-evaluation form. After Town Council receives his evaluation, each member completes an anonymous, online evaluation form, which involves rating him in 12 categories and adding comments if they choose. Gasen said she then consolidates those forms into one document, and the draft is sent to Town Council.
Town Council later meets in a closed session to review the consolidated evaluation and create a final version, Gasen said. After that evaluation is shared with Riley, a joint meeting is held between him and Town Council to discuss it.
Below are excerpts from Riley’s 2015 evaluation, signed by Riley on Aug. 6, 2015, and by Town Council on Aug. 12, 2015. Riley’s overall rating was 3.7 out of 5, with 5 being the highest mark.
1 “Unacceptable — Unsatisfactory performance”
2 “Conditional — Requires improvement”
3 “Satisfactory — Meets Council expectations”
4 “Exceptional — Generally exceeds Council expectations”
5 “Outstanding — Substantially exceeds Council expectations”
Category: Strategic Planning/Leadership
Overall score: 3.3
“Steve does a fine job of executing what the Council asks him to do, but does not show enough initiative when it comes to providing his own ideas. I would like to see him bring forth his ideas on what is best for our community. I respect his opinion, but all too often I feel he may be trying to give us the answers he feels we want to hear.”
“Could take a more proactive role in strategic planning. Should engage early with risk/benefit comments, and keep Council focused on agreed upon priorities. Don’t be hesitant in alerting Council to capacity (human resources) issues.”
“Planning workshop was unproductive. Even though there were significant changes in council make-up and recognizable major initiatives identified by both the community (via the election) and the council members, the planning workshop format remained the status quo. ... Other items that demonstrated a lack of Strategic Leadership include delays associated with the Town Manager’s review of the Visioning process, a top priority of council and hesitancy to consider alternatives for achieving council’s top priority of making sanitary sewer service available to all who desire it.”
“Steve’s vision to bring USCB back to the Island will play a significant role in our future. It will positively diversify the make-up of our citizens and businesses alike. This is the type of creative thinking that makes a town manager more than an administrative head.”
Category: Council and Policy Facilitation
Overall score: 3.7
“I think Steve does a good job however earlier in the year he was not very helpful in terms of new leadership. He does inform me of information in a timely manner, and addresses the needs of the council effectively.”
“I am personally pleased with how Steve has kept me informed. There have been no surprises. He answers my questions directly and promptly. Could take more of a role in establishing priorities and keeping us focused. Must assure that communication between he and the Mayor is appropriate, whatever it takes.”
“I don’t disagree with the town manager’s self-assessment on this item. At the time I took office, the Town Manager evidenced a subtle, yet firm opposition to discussion of changes and modifications necessary (to) town council initiatives. I have noticed a change for the better in this in the last 30 days or so.”
Category: Presentation Skills and Media Relations
Overall score: 3.4
“Steve and staff need to figure out a better way to communicate what the town does for the public. Example: I had no idea that the town gets us a 25% discount on flood insurance and neither did anyone else in the Public Planning meeting today.”
“Is well spoken and instills confidence, but needs to do more of it.”
“Steve is completely dedicated to his role as a public town representative. He attends countless events on our behalf and is always professional in his demeanor. In the future it will be imperative that Steve work closely with our professional PR communications firm to ensure that messages are presented in a positive and factual manner.”
“Town Manager needs to recognize that absent passion & enthusiasm a motivated audience disappears.”
Overall score: 5
“I think Steve demonstrates a very high level of integrity. I have a great deal of trust in what he says and does.”
“He does a great job addressing emergencies and providing information regarding all legal issues. He has done a very good job addressing ward 1 concerns.”
“It has been a very busy 6 months since taking office filled with change and critical issues. I am working on my relationship with the Town Manager, as I am certain he is with me. I do not believe that I have adequate knowledge or information to make an assessment in this area. Please divide my total score by 11.”
Category: Personal Development
Overall score: 3.6
“Steve is uneasy with new Council and still trying to find how best to work in tandem. Would suggest he take the lead in helping defining, prioritizing, allocating resources, and tracking projects.”
“I agree with the Town Manager’s self-assessment on this item. In addition, there has been substantial change and identification of new initiatives in a very short period of time. The Town Manager has responded in a way that is encouraging to me.”
“Steve is committed to continued education opportunities to increase his professional exposure and personal skills. He needs to strive to increase his public enthusiasm for his leadership position and passion for serving in this capacity. Nothing breeds excitement and commitment than seeing it resonate from the top.”
“Town Manager could benefit from enhancing skill base in terms of public speaking & motivational techniques.”
The entire evaluation can be read here.