State

After 4 years, Riverbank to review city manager

RIVERBANK -- Like most city managers, Rich Holmer's contract says he's supposed to have a yearly evaluation. Unlike most, Holmer hasn't had one in several years.

That's about to change. The City Council is moving forward with plans to give Holmer a formal performance review, his first since 2005. The council started the process in a closed session meeting July 27.

Holmer, 62, has served as Riverbank's top administrator since 1995 and makes about $157,000.

Turmoil has gripped Riverbank lately, with two mayors resigning and two council members targeted by a recall effort.

Holmer isn't immune to the controversy. Some blame him for the county grand jury's recent finding that Councilman Jesse James White wasn't a registered voter when he pulled his candidacy papers. The grand jury recommended that White be removed from office. White's supporters say he's the victim of a mismanaged city, with Holmer at the helm.

The grand jury didn't offer an opinion on that, but it made some recommendations on how Riverbank conducts business. Among them: resume annual evaluations for Holmer.

Such performance reviews are considered "critically important" for the manager and his or her community, said Michele Frisby, spokeswoman for the International City/County Management Association. "It gives both parties an opportunity to establish goals and set expectations and to measure progress against those benchmarks," Frisby said.

Sometimes cities let annual reviews go by the wayside because things are going well, said Dave Mora, West Coast regional director of the managers association. "Frankly, even in that case it's good to have a dialogue to say that things are going well and to document that," Mora said.

Holmer and council members were at a loss to explain exactly why the city stopped his annual reviews.

One possibility, Holmer said, is that the city stopped the practice of negotiating merit-based raises for top managers in 2006, when the city switched to a "step" salary system. The step system guarantees an annual merit increase that's not negotiable.

The council approved Holmer's last merit-based raise, about 13 percent, in 2006, he said, and was awarded without a performance review.

Holmer said he is at the top salary step and no longer eligible for merit increases. He can receive cost-of-living adjustment raises, but he and city department heads won't receive one this fiscal year because of budget cuts.

Councilman Dave White, who brought up the idea of resuming evaluations, said he didn't know why the council stopped doing them.

"I don't know, I wasn't in charge," said White, who is Jesse James White's grandfather. "I'm not blaming anybody. I think it's something that just slipped by and we failed to do."

Holmer said he welcomes a review. "I get a decent salary," he said "(Residents) should know that I'm doing the things that the council feels are important to the health and well-being of Riverbank, so they know that they're getting the biggest bang for their buck."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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