MENOMINEE — On Thursday, a special meeting of the Menominee City Council was held with one agenda item — City Manager Tony Graff’s evaluation. According to Mayor Jean Stegeman, this is the first time a city manager’s evaluation was held in an open session.

Council member Bill Plemel, who is also chairman of the Judicial and Legislative/Personnel and Labor Committee, put together an evaluation consisting of 10 categories with five questions each, using the same categories and questions as were in the last evaluation. He compared this year’s answers to the answers from last year’s evaluation, as the same people were on the council for the last evaluation. He also dropped the highest and lowest scores in certain areas as a fail-safe against any low ratings simply out of spite or high ratings simply out of affection.

After explaining the metric of the evaluation, the council members each gave their thoughts on Graff’s performance. According to Stegeman, Graff’s scores across the board dropped slightly from the last evaluation.

Council member Josh Jones said, “As for strengths your community engagement, being out there and involved and engaged (is a strength). Looking at an area to work on, one of the areas we sort of scored similar on was providing the council information; providing updates on projects. Triangle Park for example; we talked about it in committees a couple times, but there were some tweaks to the project along the way, and some updates on what was going on would’ve been appreciated. There were things that we’d get asked about that we would’ve liked to have information on.”

“So far I think you’ve been doing good,” said council member Steve Fifarek. “The only thing I was really concerned about was staying within our budgets. Other than that, I don’t have much to say.”

Council member Dennis Klitzke said, “I think overall, Tony is a good communicator, at least with me, and he’s open to suggestions. I’d like to see more communication on projects, and I also think it’d be good to reach out to the council looking for suggestions, and maybe some direction or advice. A lot of the council members have a lot of knowledge about things that happen within the city.”

“I’ve had problems with quite a bit of what was going on, and the budget was one thing,” Plemel said, “You came in under someone else’s budget and finished it up, but that was a negative. The next two years we had more negatives in the budget. One of the things you scored lowest on was finishing projects. With Triangle Park we had to extend the grant to not lose it, but that seems to be one of the problems. We’ve had problems with the City Assessor; way back when you decided we should hire someone to help her, and we’re just looking at the job description now.”

Council member Doug Robinson scored Graff relatively high in most areas — however he said the projects Graff has left unfinished are a “red flag.”

“I hate unfinished projects because then, in my mind, I can’t take them off the list. When you first started I gave you a couple files, and I have seen no action on those, not even a discussion, and I expected you to take them up. I expect you to manage from start to finish, not half way. I mean this in the best way: when we ask you for something, I don’t want the flowers, I want the facts, and its hard to get those out of you sometimes. I understand the political climate and so on, but you need to talk to us individually. Being straightforward with the council would benefit you and benefit us,” he said.

Council member Heather Nelson said Graff is very good at staying engaged in the community. “You respond to questions in a timely manner, and those things stand out and continue to do so. But there are too many open projects. We have a number of issues and I’d like to close those issues. They come up, they stay relevant for a while then they kind of disappear, so we need to keep those up.” She also said she’d like to see more cost saving initiatives, code enforcement and filling of key city positions which have been vacant for several months.

“We as a council failed to give Tony direction and goals,” said council member Frank Pohlmann, “I used what I submitted when we tried to formulate goals; there were 12 goals discussed in the Finance Committee. I think Tony accomplished six but didn’t completely accomplish six others. I took my score down a notch because in the area of responsiveness to citizens. There were a couple of little things that citizens requested from me and I requested from you, and I didn’t see that you were as responsive. We as a local government look good if we respond to little things.”

Council member Nick Malone said Graff has been doing okay at updating the council weekly, but could still improve in that area. “Sometimes I’ll send you emails and I don’t get a response; just so long as I know you’re getting my messages, even just saying “OK” is fine. We could probably look at more ways to save money, other than that you’re doing a good job.”

Stegeman said it pained her to say in a public meeting that Graff, in her eyes, was not performing to expectations. “You’re very popular in the community, and I grant you that. But the fact that we have spent close to $30,000 with Frank’s Logging and do not have a contract with them, the fact that Coleman Engineering addressed this council and we don’t have a contract with them for the work they’re doing, your reluctance to do RFPs on major categories like water and wastewater treatment, the idea that you’re okay with giving them a five-year extension on a contract for the most expensive thing we do here in the city without going out for an RFP, I think is fiscally irresponsible. The council needs analysis, options and recommendations. It’s not prudent to drift towards conclusions or a plan of action.”

She said the city hired Graff to “come up with innovative ways to reduce expenses, increase revenues, provide analysis, stay true to the budget and provide long-range planning. The fact that Councilman Plemel and I are frequently on opposite sides of an issue and are in pretty fair agreement on your performance should tell this community and you something.”

Stegeman said it also pained her to say that Graff needed to get to City Hall earlier, which she said could have some bearing on why projects have gone unfinished. “I told you in our first conversation that I want you to succeed here, and I still want you to succeed, but your success will require you to increase your effort significantly. Everybody talks about communication, I think we are not going anywhere, and so attempting to circumvent this council is not a path to success. Again, I wish you success because success for you is success for this city.”

Graff said he didn’t have much to say in response at this time.

“I’ll take all the input from the evaluation into consideration,” he said. “I’ve been through many evaluations, I appreciate the critiquing and I appreciate people staying on facts. We’ll see how things go in the next year. I will say that municipal and private industry are very challenged right now with talent recruitment. Having an open position isn’t a fault of anyone. We are trying to find ways to fill the open positions, but we’re going through a phase of reorganizing as people are reaching the end of their careers. Some challenges are in my control, some are not and I take complete responsibility.”

In addition to the evaluation, the council voted to adjust Graff’s salary. The council voted in a five to four decision to raise Graff’s salary by 1.5%.