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County officials get little feedback on job performance

Some, including one responsible for investigating harassment complaints, get few written evaluations of their performance.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
@NWHaglund
Published:
In the five years before his career as Snohomish County planning director ended in drunken embarrassment, Craig Ladiser received no written evaluations.
And for roughly the same length of time, Mark Knudsen, the man responsible for investigating harassment complaints in Ladiser's department and other county workplaces, also received no formal, written feedback.
Knudsen quit his job as the county's harassment investigator early last week. That came just days before an independent investigator's report was made public, showing that Knudsen's harassment investigation records were a shambles. Among other things, the audit found Knudsen had documented his decisions with written reports in just 32 of 126 cases. In seven cases, no records could be found at all, the report said.
On Friday, Deputy County Executive Mark Soine sent a letter to all county staff saying he was to blame for failing to do a better job monitoring Knudsen and his paperwork.
Soine made no mention of his decision, year after year, not to prepare performance evaluations for Knudsen, or to require similar reviews for Ladiser. An attorney, Soine is the chief administrative officer under County Executive Aaron Reardon.
Written performance reviews are just smart business, experts say, particularly in government.
“Yes, you absolutely need written evaluations,” said Jane Reynolds, a lecturer with the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. “In court, you don't want to go in there and say, ‘Sure, I did an evaluation. Sure, I did.”
Ideally, any business should give employees feedback every quarter, Reynolds said. Year-end reviews are the bare minimum, she said.
At Snohomish County, Ladiser had no written evaluation on file since Reardon hired him to lead the planning department in 2004, a public-records request showed. He was fired from his job in August after exposing his genitals to a woman at a golf tournament.
The most recent written feedback for Knudsen came in May 2005 when Soine's predecessor, Gary Weikel, prepared an evaluation. Weikel also conducted a performance review in 2004. He gave Knudsen high marks, but also set for Knudsen a performance target of completing harassment investigations within 90 days.
Knudsen investigated several sexual-harassment complaints brought by employees in Ladiser's planning department but decided that no corrective action was warranted.
After Weikel was reassigned by Reardon, then retired, Knudsen's supervision transferred to Soine. The deputy executive said he met with Knudsen twice every month, but found no “red flags.”
The executive's office said it could find no record of Soine conducting a written evaluation of Knudsen's work.
“Procedure is to conduct weekly management reviews of our directors,” said Brian Parry, one of Reardon's executive directors. “Directors are accountable for meeting department work plans, budgeted elements and other projects as assigned throughout the year by the Executive and (the County) Council.”
The performance of county directors is reviewed in weekly cabinet meetings and one-one-one discussions, Parry said.
In addition, Parry said, Reardon makes use of a computer program called SnoStat that tracks performance measures for departments, such as how quickly building permits are issued, or how many people use county parks. The results are posted on the county's public Web site.
SnoStat did not track sexual harassment complaints, or how quickly cases were investigated. That information was developed by Linda Walton, a Seattle labor attorney the county paid $12,000 to conduct an audit of Knudsen's files. She found that it often took the county's harassment investigator several months, sometimes even years, to get back to employees on their complaints. She's recommended that the county shoot for results in 60 days.
Vandra Huber, professor of human resources at the UW's Foster School, said research shows that organizations often do a poor job of evaluating their upper ranks and holding people accountable.
“It's sort of a do-as-I-say, not a do-as-I-do philosophy,” Huber said. “The sad part of that is that if the top does it, then the bottom does it.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » GovernmentCounty CouncilCounty executiveEmployees

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