Fayetteville BOMA pondering Scott Collings future as city administrator  as performance evaluation hits all-time low

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen held a Special Called Work Session last Thursday to conduct City Administrator Scott Collins’ 2021 Evaluation Review. Pictured (l-r) are Collins, Vice Mayor Danny Bryant, Alderman Jeff Alder, Alderman Dorothy Small, Mayor Michael Whisenant, Alderman Tonya Allen, Alderman Donna Hartman, Alderman Roger Martinez and City Attorney John Hill.

After scoring an all time low on his 2021 Evaluation Review, is City Administrator Scott Collins’ job on the line? Or, will the Mayor and Board of Aldermen give him another chance as they did six months ago to turn this downhill slide around? Based on comments by five of the six aldermen at Thursday’s Special Called Work Session, that may not be an option. Collins, who has been with the city since 2013, acknowledged, “I know a stream roller is coming toward me.”

The score by five of the six aldermen ranged from a 1 to a 2.88. The high score of the sixth alderman was 3.16 and 3.62 was given by the mayor, which gave an Overall Score of 2.43, well below the 3.1 in January 2021 and 3.3 in July 2020, when “the intent was to have [Collins] turn it around.” The overall score was determined by adding individual scores in each category and multiplying the total by seven.

“My reason for asking for a six-month evaluation is because in only a year I saw problems…I saw issues,” Vice Mayor Danny Bryant said. He then gave previous years’ scores dating back to 2016, which was under a different board of aldermen. That year the overall score was 3.63. In 2017, the score was 2.9. “That was an eye opener,” Bryant stated. In 2018, the overall score increased to 3.4 and by 2019 Collins’ score was 4.07, which “showed he was on the right tract.” By 2020, the number dropped to 3.3, which, according to Bryant, “was going the wrong way… He knew he needed to turn this thing around.”

Evaluations are based on 10 categories relating to the city administrators’ job with five specific areas within each category. The categories include: Individual Characteristics, such as diligent self starter, exercises good judgment, and displays enthusiasm, cooperation, willingness to adapt; Professional Skills & Status, such as knowledgeable of current developments affecting city government, anticipates and analyses problems and develops solutions; Relations with Members of board and mayor, carries out directives of the whole body vs. one member or minority, disseminates complete and accurate information equally to all members in a timely manner, and responds well to requests, advice and constructive criticism; Policy Execution, implements BMA actions in accordance to the intent of BMA and supports actions of BMA after decision is reached both inside and outside of the organization; Reporting, provides regular information and reports to BMA regarding matters important to government, using Charter as guide; responds in timely manner to BMA requests for special reports, and takes initiative to provide information, advice and recommendations on non-routine and not administrative in nature; Citizens Relations, such as, responsive to requests from citizens, maintains non-partisan approach in dealing with news media and gives an appropriate effort to maintain citizen satisfaction with city services; Staffing, recruits and retains competent personnel for staff positions, stays accurately informed and appropriately concerned about employee reactions and promotes training and development opportunities for all employees; Supervision, sustains or improves staff performance, develops and maintains friendly and informal relationship with staff and workforce in general and encourages department heads to make decisions within their jurisdiction; Fiscal Management, prepares a balanced budget to provide services at a level directed by the BMA and makes best possible use of available funds, conscious of the need to operate efficiently and effectively; and lastly, Community, which involves shares responsibility for addressing the difficult issues facing the city, avoids any unnecessary controversy and helps BMA address future needs and develop adequate plans to address long term trends.

During the Work Session, Mayor Michael Whisenant went through each of the 10 categories allowing ample time for each alderman to bring issues to the table and for Collins to respond. Some of the issues included employee turnover and evaluations and vacancies within different departments.

Both Alderman Donna Hartman and Alderman Roger Martinez spoke of numerous phone calls they have received from citizens about Collins never returning their phone calls. “I get tons of calls from people telling me ‘I can’t get Scott to call me back,’” said Martinez. “Don’t take this personal, Scott. I answer everyone’s calls, texts and emails. Your interaction with the citizens of Fayetteville is a must.” Likewise, Hartman said she receives call about the city administrator not returning their calls. Collins said he had had numerous meetings with people. “I am out frequently to address concerns.”

The situation at Don Davidson Park where a citizen had donated years of volunteer service but was no longer allowed to volunteer at the park was brought up and discussed in length. Alderman Hartman said that no one knew who gave the citizen permission to do all the work those many years. “There was an event at the park honoring him and then this citizen is being rode out of town on a rail.” Collins responded by saying he later told the citizen that going forward “everything has to be taken to the board.” This was after the storybook trail had been built, named and subsequently taken apart. Mayor Whisenant said he told “Scott everything had to come through the board,” adding that there is a process for things to be done and that not everything that transpired could be blamed on Collins. According to Alderman Dorothy Small, “a lack of communication” created some of the issues.

A 44 percent turnover rate in employment during the past two years is “unheard of in local government” due to good benefits, etc., according to Hartman. It was noted that the fire department has had three chiefs in as many years and has lost several fireman as well. “This can’t all be employees fault,” Hartman stated. The mayor said employee losses within the fire department couldn’t be attributed to Collins. It was noted that a new fire chief has been hired, but no start date was mentioned. Planning and Codes still has one vacancy after a new building inspector was hired and the new director was hired from within the department. Parks and Recreation is in the process of being rebuilt after the program coordinator quit, the maintenance supervisor was let go and when the new director was hired, a “massive walkout” occurred.

“If you had addressed this early on, Scott, would these employees still be there?” Alderman Martinez asked Collins, who said “one employee left to start his own business; another was “worn out” and the board wanted a more professional department. “We are taking baby steps now to build something that we haven’t had before.”

Alderman Small said that a lot of things had been brought back into the recreation department with the same number of employees. She listed Camp Blount and the new soccer field that both require a lot of mowing. “There’s only a certain number of employees to do a certain amount of work…creating unreasonable expectation.”

Vice Mayor Bryant admitted he didn’t offer any comments on his evaluation. “My comment time is over. Some of my comments have been “hard.” I believe as a board we have made a good faith effort to resolve this.” He said that since any increase in pay for Collins is based on his evaluations, “yours [this year] should be zero. My reason for asking for this six months evaluation is because I saw problems. I saw issues.”

Bryant reminded the board that they are all elected by the people and that’s who they each represent. Noting that he has been elected four times to be an alderman, “there are expectations of me from citizens and I must do my duty to them. A 2.43 score is not good enough for me and it’s not good enough for our citizens.”

Alderman Jeff Alder said very little throughout the work session. “I never had had any blowups with Scott, but these scores are disappointing. There is a fractured relationship between you and the board and that can’t be fixed.”

Alderman Small defended Collins throughout the two-hour meeting. She said she sees a lot of conflicts but that it’s impossible for Collins to do all the things seven members expect from him. “I look at what he has done,” she added. She credited his ability of obtaining grants “because of whom he knew,” while stating she believes the score numbers are skewed. That comment came after Alderman Hartman said her evaluation was based on the past year. Small told Hartman that the board was directed to evaluated the past six months. However, Bryant gave an analysis of “dropping off” Hartman’s score, which showed the overall score would be 2.67. Likewise, he showed the average with only five of the scores. “I am looking for at least a 3,” he added. “After six months, it’s time to stop this downhill turn.”

Alderman Small encouraged the board to think objectively. There are 14 projects on the table and a lot of money involved. Personality conflicts have no business in city business. She also noted that there would be a four to six month transition if Collins is replaced.

Alderman Tonya Allen said her low score came after much thought and consideration. “I had a responsibility and to do it correctly. I think the board has been fair and constructive. I was expecting big changes.”

Hartman told Collins she was the one who gave him a score of 1 “across the board.” She then asked, “Are you really trying? We spent hours on these recommendations to you to improve, but nothing has changed. Fayetteville deserves more than 2.4, which is less than 50 percent. I don’t see you continuing as the city administrator.”

Alderman Martinez said that the city of Fayetteville spoke when he was elected last August. “The score I gave you was the right number. You can’t continue to go down this road and not have change.” He said that he takes to heart the direction the city is going. “I don’t go out asking questions, but I do respond when asked. If you have 20 things on your plate, that’s your job.”

The mayor said he works daily with Collins. “In the midst of disappointments, I get a lot of positive feedback from the community.” He then gave Collins opportunity of defend himself.

Collins began by saying he takes the evaluations seriously before providing extensive details about his 30 years in public service. He admitted many of the comments were hurtful, especially those that he doesn’t care about the people or his job. “I applied for one job since I have been here. I love Fayetteville and my heart is in Fayetteville. I have been in this business a long time and this is my 10th evaluation. I know a steam roller is coming toward me, but I can’t sit here and let my professional leadership be smeared.” He admitted that there have been personality conflicts before detailing his accomplishments over the past eight years. The latest being the hiring of a fire chief, who originally declined the job offer. Collins said he spent almost two hours talking by phone with the new hire selling Fayetteville to him. “He called later and accepted the position,” Collins shared. “He is going to take the department to the next level.”

Collins told the board “we have so much going on. The soccer field, look at what we accomplished. Phase I of the Greenway, the downtown Master Plan, Camp Blount, the ongoing William D. Jones project. I do this day in and day out. I take offense when I am told I don’t care for my job. We have many great things going and, yes, I have been a part of this.” He did acknowledge that five of the six aldermen had given him very low scores. “Keep in mind the amount of money I brought to Fayetteville,” he concluded.

“In your responses to all these comments, have you been 100 percent truthful with your answers?” Bryant asked Collins. “And you know that I know the answer.” Collins acknowledged “yes” to Bryant’s last comment, adding, “I don’t know how you want me to respond.” Bryant told Collins, “Just answer yes or no.” No answer from Collins was forthcoming.

In answer to Martinez’s earlier question, “where do we go from here,” the vice mayor gave the three options for replacing a city administrator. These include the city administrator can resign, or the board can “cut him loose” with cause or without cause. Less than a year remains on Collins’ three-year contract that expires in July 2022.

City Attorney John Hill confirmed the three options and also said that no action could be taken by the board during a Special Called Work Session. The mayor will need to call a Special Mayor and Board of Aldermen meeting.