Brent Batten: Evaluations shed light on commissioners' ability to misrepresent facts

BRENT BATTEN
Brent Batten

Brent Batten

"You have an amazing ability to misrepresent the facts," Collier County Commissioner Fred Coyle told fellow Commissioner Georgia Hiller Tuesday.

"You have an amazing ability to misrepresent the facts," came the quick, if not particularly original, response from Hiller.

Coyle and Hiller accusing each other of lying is an all-too-common feature of Collier County Commission meetings of late and a new commissioner or two coming on board after the November election offers little reason to believe that will change.

So whom should we believe? Is Hiller twisting things around to advance a political agenda or is Coyle desperately seeking to hold on to leadership of the board by casting his rival in a false light?

Different observers could have a different answer every time the accusation of untruthfulness is cast, but it may be instructive to look at one item in particular that had claims of lying flying in both directions Tuesday.

At issue was the contract of Ian Mitchell, the executive manager to the County Commission. Mitchell oversees the operation of the commissioners' office, ostensibly supervising the legislative aides who work under each of the five elected commissioners.

On Sept. 26, for reasons he hasn't fully divulged, Mitchell asked to be let go. Tuesday commissioners were discussing how much separation pay Mitchell might be entitled to and wondering aloud why he would seek to leave.

Coyle's theory is that Hiller made his job unbearable. "You just badgered them to death and they just said, 'That's it. That's enough,"' Coyle said, setting off an exchange.

"Oh no. I'm sorry. That's not true. That's completely false. In fact very much the opposite. I'm sorry, you're completely wrong and your statement is false," Hiller said.

She and Mitchell get along great, she said. "I happen to really like Mr. Mitchell. I gave him a really good evaluation because I thought he deserved it," she said.

To which Coyle observed, "I think your evaluation of him was probably the lowest of any of the commissioners."

Countered Hiller, "Well it wasn't."

So there we have it. Did Hiller give Mitchell a "really good" evaluation?

Was it the lowest of any commissioner?

Let's go to the record.

On Sept. 25, commissioners' evaluations of Mitchell's performance were part of the meeting agenda.

The scale on the front page of the evaluation form ranges from a high mark of 5, deemed "exceptional" down to 2, labeled "development needed."

There are seven job performance categories, including fiscal issues, personnel matters and handling of advisory boards. A 5 in every category would garner a maximum evaluation score of 35.

Mitchell's highest score came from outgoing Commissioner Jim Coletta who gave him a 30.5.

The lowest score — drum roll, please — was from Hiller, at 16. That's an average of 2.3 per category, a level just above "development needed," if the evaluation form means anything.

During Tuesday's meeting, Hiller asserted, "My evaluation was even better than Commissioner (Donna) Fiala's."

Said Coyle, "No, it wasn't. Commissioner Fiala knows it. I know it and anyone who looks at the record will know it."

That record shows Fiala gave Mitchell a rating of 27, compared to Hiller's 16. Fiala offered encouraging comments, such as, "You and staff have done a tremendous job in responding to the public in a very timely way," and "Another job well done." Hiller's evaluation included no comments.

During the exchange with Coyle, Hiller offered an explanation, albeit a lame one, for her low number for Mitchell. She said she rates everyone on a scale of 1 to 3.

"I gave him nothing but twos and threes," she boasted.

Nowhere on Mitchell's review form does Hiller indicate she is using her own three-point scale rather than the system outlined on the form with 5 being the highest mark. Nor does it make sense for each commissioner to come up with a separate ranking system.

What if different members of the purchasing department came up with their own way of analyzing bids? Contractor X scored 93 on the bid sheet, Contractor Y gets a B-plus and Contractor C is XCVI.

None of this is to say Hiller is compelled to give Mitchell, or anyone else, a good review. If she thinks an employee is not doing a good job, she should say so. That's part of her job.

But claiming to have given a positive review when any logical reading of the form shows it to be otherwise does nothing for a commissioner's credibility going forward.

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