As the City of Dade City is staged for a wave of unprecedented growth, development and other happenings, elected leaders want to ensure they have the right leadership and administration in charge to navigate the East Pasco town’s future.
Much of that starts with Dade City Manager Leslie Porter, who has officially held the position for nearly two years.
Porter’s employment contract will renew on May 14, unless the Dade City Commission acts otherwise.
Keeping this time frame in mind, Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez has called for significant tweaks to the handling of Porter’s annual performance review — with the aim of helping the city manager carry out the city’s established vision and goals.
The topic came up during the commission’s March 9 meeting.
Hernandez said the municipality is at a “critical juncture.”
She detailed major undertakings, such as the U.S. 301 commercial corridor; the developing of major recreational and park amenities; overseeing several new residential developments and annexations; and, figuring out the way to market, brand and promote the town going forward.
“We’re dealing with growth issues and concerns that we have never dealt with before, so we need to make sure we’ve got our game in order,” Hernandez said.
Because of that, Hernandez urged fellow commissioners to put deep, and serious, thought into their observations of Porter’s job to date.
Said Hernandez: “I want to make sure that when we get through this evaluation, that we can all walk away confident that (Porter) is the person that is going to lead us on, as we move forward and have all of the skillsets that we need.
“I think Ms. Porter is an extremely talented individual, and if she’s the one that we want to keep in this position as we move forward — if that’s the one we choose — then we need to make sure we’re all on the same page in making sure that we help her to have that, by way of marking improvement that peaks her performances.
“I think more than ever, I think we need to be on the same team, ‘Team City Manager,’ so that we move forward to get the city’s best interests,” the mayor said.
Hernandez said her comments are “nothing personal” toward the sitting city manager, but rather about “having Dade City’s best interests at heart.”
Hernandez then described disappointment with the handling and execution of various city operations on the whole, specifically noting a general lack of communication and engagement and not being “in the loop” on certain matters.
Hernandez also mentioned others in the community and throughout City Hall have expressed “angst and frustration” of late, too.
“We’re in the hot seat all the time because of all the people that come to us when things are done and not done,” Hernandez said. “I know this commission wants to know what’s going on, because the last thing we want to do is walk down the shopping aisle and have somebody tell us (about a local issue) and we look like a deer in the headlights…”
Even with this direct and clear warning shot and wakeup call, the mayor did credit Porter for making “considerable changes recently in terms of communicating and engaging.’
The mayor added: “I think if we can continue to move in that direction, then we are on the right path, but if we can’t, then we’ve got some issues that we need to address.”
Evaluations should be meaningful
Commissioner Normita Woodard, sworn into her first-term last July, agreed with calls for more proactive oversight and transparency in manager evaluations, as opposed to a mundane check-the-box exercise.
“I definitely don’t think we just do an evaluation and call it a day,” Woodard said. “I do think that we need to make sure that all of what we want to see and all the criteria is being met, and if not, then we need to have a plan set up of how we’re going to meet that objective or what we’re going to do, if it’s not done. But, I don’t think we can just evaluate and move forward.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Scott Black suggested scheduling a workshop to brainstorm ways to fine-tune the manager evaluation and clarify other goal-setting measures. This exercise, he said, “would go a long way for helping address the concerns” the mayor brought up.
“We haven’t had (this type of workshop) since our new commissioners (Woodard and Knute Nathe) have joined us and that is something we once did on an annual basis, where we just go in and indicate what our priorities individually, and bring all that together to have a collective vision or at least a plan for the city manager to pursue.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve done that, and I think this would be very helpful for the commission, for management, for staff, for everyone else involved, and that keeps us all where we can have something that we can measure performance based on what our collective vision is as a commission,” Black said.
Porter’s last evaluation was presented at a meeting in June 2020.
Commissioners then rated Porter’s overall performance at a 4.1 out of 5.0 scale, graded on management in administration, adhering to governance, relationship-building, leadership, and financial acumen, among other areas.
The main focus for improvements was in the arenas of building relationships and better communication with legislators, residents, merchants, The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, and so on.
Other constructive criticism also called for Porter — who commutes from her home in Tampa — to have better familiarization with the municipality as a whole, along with various city departments and employees.
Previous city manager evaluations came in with satisfactory marks from commissioners.
After the commission meeting, The Laker/Lutz News reached out to Porter for her reaction to comments that were made pertaining to her during the meeting.
In an email response, Porter said: “I agree the city needs an evaluation tool that the commission as a body agrees upon. The city manager is in a unique position in that he/she reports equally to five elected officials. Each voice is important, and for the city manager to be most effective, he/she needs to know the expectations to which they are being held accountable and the priorities of the commission as a whole.”
Porter was originally hired as the city’s finance director in 2014.
She was appointed interim city manager in February 2019, assuming the post long-held by Billy Poe, who took a similar position with the City of Zephyrhills.
Porter was selected, after the city was unable to reach a contract agreement with Christopher Edwards, its initial top candidate for the position, who was then a real estate associate in Tallahassee and previously had served as deputy director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economy Vitality.
Instead of selecting a list of new candidates to interview, the commission opted to proceed with Porter for the post, starting with a base salary of about $99,000, citing her performance as acting city manager over prior months while also juggling her duties as finance director.
Before coming to Dade City, Porter spent nearly a decade working as town treasurer for the Town of Chesapeake Beach, in Maryland.
She has a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University and a master’s degree from George Washington University.
Published March 24, 2021