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Published: Sunday, 1/21/2001

Committee members `open-minded' to idea

BY JOE MAHR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board members are again being asked by one of their own to consider an outside evaluation of the agency president and top staffers, less than a year after they rejected the idea.

Member Jerry Chabler on Friday presented the board's communications, human resources, and strategic planning committee with two proposals to evaluate President James Hartung and his top aides - one from a University of Toledo professor and the other from a national consulting firm.

“Jim tells me we have the finest staff in the Western world,” Mr. Chabler said at the committee meeting. “If that's the case, an outside evaluator will be able to come in and validate what he says.”

The idea is as controversial now as it was last year, when critics claimed it would amount to a “witch hunt.” At the time, the board decided not to have Virginia-based management consultants Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc., review staff performance and instead deal solely with agency operations.

Committee member George Ballas repeated critics' contentions Friday when he said that the board should let agency President James Hartung evaluate his staffers, and the board could evaluate Mr. Hartung.

“I can't see bringing another outside firm in to do it,” he said.

Dr. Deborah Dwyer, interim chair and associate professor with the department of management at the University of Toledo, said she would charge $17,000 for her review. The study would assess the skills needed for the top nine administrative positions - whose salaries range from $44,000 to $96,000 - and determine whether the employees in those positions had the necessary skills to do the jobs.

She said she also could determine whether the jobs were realigned properly for the agency's strategic plan.

“For example, do you need a seaport director, or is there another combination of jobs, skills, and personnel that makes sense?” Dr. Dwyer said.

If her offer is accepted, she said she would donate the money to UT to advertise the business department's academic programs to prospective students.

The other proposal from Personnel Decisions International, of Minneapolis, includes a suggested price of $52,700 to evaluate the top 10 staffers. It also appears more involved than Dr. Dwyer's proposal.

John Heidke, a senior consultant with the firm, said port authority staffers would participate in “rigorous” sessions at the firm's Troy, Mich., office. Besides a battery of cognitive and personality tests, each staffer would be placed in workplace simulations, during which company employees would act out various scenarios to assess the staffer's reactions.

“We have the expertise. We have the unbiased data. We can provide frank, accurate assessments without any bias built into them at all,” he said.

Mr. Chabler said he could try to solicit other firms as well, and that the final costs of any study would have to be negotiated. But he said it is important for the board to use an outside evaluator to assure the internal evaluations are objective.

His request was made hours after a contentious closed-door debate that resulted in the board approving a 5.5 percent raise for Mr. Hartung, raising his salary to $137,108.

Most committee members said they will consider the outside evaluations for Mr. Hartung and his staff, but only after the board completes its strategic plan, refines its staffers' goals, and decides how to issue incentive-based pay to staffers.

Committee Chairman Jim White said he is willing to meet with Dr. Dwyer and a representative from Personnel Decisions to hear more about their proposals.

“I think we should be open-minded about everything. An outside evaluation is something we can take a look at,” Mr. White said.

“But I think it's just a little premature right now.”



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