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Erik Burgess, Published September 26 2013

City: Fired West Fargo public works director had poor communication, trouble ‘keeping his cool'

WEST FARGO – The recently fired public works director here didn’t communicate well with staff and the general public, and had trouble staying calm when dealing with staff, according to job evaluations obtained by The Forum.

Barry Johnson was fired on Monday. He has been with the city for 20 years and has until Oct. 3 to appeal.

When reached at home Thursday, Johnson called the reviews “subjective” and said he doesn’t yet know if he’ll appeal his termination.

Johnson’s 2012 evaluation was completed in May, and the 2011 evaluation was completed in May 2012.

“The number one complaint I hear from public works employees is that they don’t know what is going on,” City Administrator Jim Brownlee wrote in the 2011 evaluation. “Also I continue to get complaints from the public that you do not get back to them when they call.”

Johnson said the reviews don’t properly reflect the work he was doing.

“The evaluations that the city utilized are completely subjective, based upon whoever’s filling them out,” he said.

According to his 2011 evaluation, Johnson also needed to work on “keeping (his) cool.”

“(Your employees) are so afraid to bring up items as they never know when you will get angry,” Brownlee wrote.

In the 2012 review, Johnson scored 3 out of a possible 5 – meaning he met expectations but did not go above and beyond – in categories such as leadership, decision-making, teamwork and communication.

In both 2011 and 2012, he scored 2’s – meaning “below expectations” – in dependability, customer responsiveness and responsiveness to employees.

“Barry has the knowledge and capability to do much more,” Brownlee noted in the 2012 review.

In both evaluations, Brownlee scored Johnson with a 5 – meaning “outstanding” work – in the “job knowledge” category, noting that Johnson “is very knowledgeable on the technical aspects of public works.”

Johnson on Thursday declined to address specific concerns detailed in his evaluations.

Instead, he pointed to a memo he wrote to Brownlee on July 22 after his latest performance review. The memo detailed the numerous duties and responsibilities of the public works director, including managing the city’s sewer/water department, street department, sanitation department, and the Sheyenne River diversion.

“On top of all these duties, I am intimately involved with the day-to-day budget in all the departments,” Johnson wrote.

In the memo, he pointed out that his department was 2.48 percent under budget in 2012.

Brownlee stated in the most-recent review, completed in May, that he believed Johnson was improving.

“Barry has become much more involved and motivated,” Brownlee said. “I am very hopeful that this will continue and we will see a large improvement in Barry’s scores next year.”

Johnson will receive full salary and benefits until Oct. 7. He was making about $111,000 a year.

Mayor Rich Mattern said Wednesday that Brownlee is now looking into possibly restructuring the Public Works Department, which administers city services such as sanitation/recycling, snow removal, forestry, storm water management and the sump pump program.

Assistant Public Works Director Chris Brungardt will oversee the department for the time being, Mattern said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518