City commissioners gave top city employees glowing performance reviews this week, but stayed away from reviewing any of the recent missteps plaguing the city.
The reviews offer congratulations for jobs well done and a couple of suggestions for improvement for the five officers mandated in the city charter: clerk; manager; finance director; and law director.
City manager Matt Kline's review stated he is a "trustworthy employee who has grown into being a successful manager." It did not mention anything about the integrity probe he and law director Don Icsman launched that led to police Chief Kim Nuesse's termination.
Kline ordered the probe, which already has cost city taxpayers more than $50,000 in investigation and attorney fees, saying "the entire police department" had complained about Nuesse to him.
He fired Nuesse in June after consulting with Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter, citing her honesty and decision-making skills as reasons for the termination in addition to concerns Baxter had expressed. Nuesse is appealing the action and hearings in the appeal are scheduled to continue through October.
The estimated additional cost to the city for the first phase of the appeal is about $100,000 or more, with attorney fees and payments to retired Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Cirigliano, who is acting as hearing officer.
Commissioners engaged in "wide-ranging" discussions about Kline and the other charter officers, commission president Dennis Murray Jr. said, but he declined to discuss what factors led to the mainly positive reviews. The reviews were compiled and approved during two closed-door commission meetings, he said, adding that he was barred from talking about what was discussed.
Commissioners were "very much cognizant of the issues" concerning the corruption scandal in the community development department, the fire department investigation and the Nuesse termination, Murray said.
"To one extent or another, I'm sure those issues were on everyone's minds."
Commissioner Craig Stahl said it was not appropriate to include the problems with city government in the reviews of the city employees because those issues are ongoing.
"Every commissioner had the right to sign off on (the reviews,)" Stahl said. "I'm 100 percent positive the reviews reflect the appraisals in the executive sessions."
The four-paragraph review suggested Kline be more visible in the community and some commissioners felt they wanted more communication from Kline while others were satisfied with his communications to commissioners.
Commissioners in Icsman's performance review called the law director "a highly-successful, long-term employee" who isn't afraid to challenge the commission on issues. The review suggested Icsman make more effort to confront Kline when the two disagree.
Finance director Ed Widman was praised for his accounting skills, honesty and reliability. He was, however, asked to be more accessible at public events.
The highest accolades seem reserved for city clerk B. Joyce Brown.
"The looming challenge of possible retirement discussed in last year's review is still on the minds of many commissioners," commissioners wrote in Brown's review.