Comparing Chladek to Parrish isn't necessarily unfair, and it's inevitable.
If you’re expecting this piece to conclude that City Administrator Tony Chladek should or shouldn’t have received a vote of no confidence from the majority of the Crookston City Council and Mayor Dave Genereux last week, that’s not necessarily going to happen.
But that’s only because the local media – until a Chladek performance evaluation meeting that was a rarity last week in that it was open to the public and the press – was largely in the dark about Chladek’s performance since he was hired in early 2012, at least beyond off-the-record information, at least when it came to on-the-record information. Chladek wanted the evaluation meeting open and not closed, the latter of which is allowed by statute. Whether he wanted it open to finally get everything out in the open or because maybe he didn’t think the council members would be as harsh in an open setting is anyone’s guess, but the open meeting makes this a fairly unusual situation.
Typically, when a public official is evaluated by a city council, a school board or commission, the meeting is closed to outsiders. And even if the meeting goes on for hours and all kinds of wild and crazy stuff is said, in the end the local media is usually provided a brief statement about how the evaluation went, a statement that says next to nothing.
But this, this was something…council members speaking directly to Chladek and basically telling him that he lacks a whole variety of talents and skills necessary to be a good city administrator for this community. And then Chladek, enthusiastically defending himself.
So, where does it leave us now? Well, with a list of good points made by both sides. And there are two sides, with half the council thinking Chladek should stay on the job and the other half thinking he should go.
Clearly, there must be some significant deficiencies in his work if so many council members are so intent on evaluating him on multiple occasions and telling him to get better. On the optimistic side, if Chladek has in their eyes set the bar too low in his year-plus on the job, things can only get better, right?
Genereux is right when he says it’s far from guaranteed that a great pool of candidates would apply to replace Chladek, not if word gets around that Crookston is a tough place to work. But, really, even if Chladek isn’t the coach or isn’t even acting like the team captain to the extent that he should be, aren’t there a lot of exciting things happening in Crookston right now? If, like council member Bob Quanrud said, Chladek should be juggling up to 10 separate things a day, what more, exactly, should be happening in Crookston right now? If all these things are happening almost in spite of Chladek, as some believe, then maybe that should be seen as a credit to the other city and community leaders who are making them happen.
Quanrud said he wasn’t comparing Chladek to his predecessor, Aaron Parrish, because, he said, that wouldn’t be fair. But comparisons to the dynamic Parrish, who seemed to always be bringing some innovative idea for council members to consider, are inevitable. Parrish worked hand-in-hand with then-City Clerk/Treasurer Betty Arvidson, and they made a great team. As a result, whenever Parrish brought something forward for the council to consider, Arvidson had his back, in the form of detailed financial figures. But Parrish left, and then Arvidson left, and in their place is Chladek, who said finance wasn’t his strong suit to begin with, and Angel Hoeffner, the new finance director who’s still getting comfortable in the position that has a new title and amped-up responsibilities. Things are obviously being done differently than they once were, and it’s clearly a tough adjustment for a lot of people.
What people, exactly...besides the half of the council that’s so frustrated by Chladek? Well, apparently, it’s a lot of prominent community leaders and business people, who have told council members they’re very concerned about Chladek’s performance. We don’t know who these people are, though, so it makes it next to impossible for Chladek to address their concerns head-on, or try to improve in their eyes.
Chladek is not Parrish. He needs to improve, apparently, but he sounded at his evaluation like someone who thinks he’s doing a pretty good job, as a “team” player who works “through people,” not necessarily in front of people.
But if that’s not good enough, and Chladek does indeed depart at some point in the not-too-distant future, what are the chances that the next administrator will be more like Parrish? Slim and none, probably. How about simply better than Chladek? That’s a role of the dice, too.
So maybe the thing to do is give this some time. Not an infinite amount, mind you, but let’s let things breathe a little bit.