Johnson City commissioners cite low morale, poor customer service in city manager review


JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Low morale outlined in a recent employee survey, a drawn out, previously dysfunctional situation within the fire department and a difficult working relationship with area builders are among the problems Johnson City commissioners critiqued in their annual review of the city manager.

City Manager Pete Peterson earned a 2% merit increase last year after pulling in an overall rating of 3.4 out of five. This time his score dropped to 3 out of 5, according to city records.

In their individual responses, Johnson City commissioners, including the two newly elected commissioners, said they feel Peterson’s meeting expectations overall, but needs improvement in his ability to manage, supervision of staff development and responsiveness to others. While the five elected leaders won’t discuss Peterson’s evaluation until next month, News Channel 11 obtained the individual evaluations ahead of that discussion.

Mayor David Tomita (2.4) gave the city manager the lowest overall score of any of his colleagues and said Peterson displays disregard for the City Commission.

“I don’t wake up in the morning and go out looking for things to be critical of and often times, particularly when you’re mayor, they often find you first,” he said. “It makes it pretty clear where everybody stands. It’s not about what David Tomita thinks. It’s about what the City Commission as a whole thinks.”

Human Resources is in the process of summarizing everyone’s concerns, so commissioners can give Peterson their critique along with goals for next year at an upcoming City Commission meeting.

Tomita says one of the biggest takeaways from the evaluation shows a need for improved customer services.

Vice Mayor Jenny Brock said as much in her review too, raising concerns that developers and builders are moving elsewhere because Johnson City is “too difficult and slow.”

“We’re going to continue to work on customer service,” Brock said. “I think he’s going to take the bull by the horns and make some of those improvements.”

Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin criticized Peterson for a lack of follow through.

“I am both disappointed and discouraged by a tendency of Mr. Peterson to avoid dealing with deficiencies in upper level department personnel that he has hired and a failure to address known problems within the organization,” he said in his evaluation.

Peterson said he’s committed to listening to the commissioners’ feedback.

“While a ‘Meets Expectations’ is acceptable and you meet the job requirements, that’s not what I strive to do and that’s not what I’m willing to settle for,” Peterson said. “I take it very seriously anything that commissioners tell me and we do sit down and make a plan, an implementation plan where we can make a corrective plan.”

Peterson says he’s already taking steps to improve customer service and employee morale.

“Obviously, we need to do more than what we’re doing,” he said.

The city manager said a big focus of his is to enable more decision-making by frontline employees instead of relying on management to make all of the decisions. He says that would speed up and improve customer service, especially for those looking to build and develop in Johnson City.

While the mayor said he doesn’t want to draw any conclusions until the final report is finished, the vice mayor calls Peterson a steady leader who is the right fit to continue managing the city.

“I’m one that feels like even when there’s some improvement that needs to occur that we need to let that person know that we have their back and that we’re going to work hand-in-hand to move the organization forward,” Vice Mayor Brock said. “We’ve got a great deal of momentum going. I don’t want to see that disrupted.”

Peterson received the highest marks in his recent evaluation for his ability to manage the city’s finances.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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