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Erik Burgess, Published September 26 2013

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

WEST FARGO – The recently fired public works director here showed poor communication with staff and the general public and had trouble staying calm when dealing with staff, according to job evaluations for Barry Johnson obtained by The Forum.

Johnson was fired from his position as public works director 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.

According to job performance evaluations from 2011 and 2012, Johnson had issues communicating with his own staff and with the public.

The 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 3s out of 5s – meaning he met expectations but did not go above and beyond – in categories like leadership, decision making, teamwork and communication.

In both 2011 and 2012, he scored 2s – 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 did score 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.

Brownlee also said 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.

Barry Johnson's 2012 and 2011 evaluations with West Fargo

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518