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Helena City Commission holds evaluation on city manager Cortez

Posted at 6:37 PM, Sep 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-18 20:40:50-04

HELENA — The Helena City Commission has conducted an evaluation of the new city manager, about eight months into her tenure.

On Wednesday morning, commissioners met with City Manager Ana Cortez to discuss an assessment of her first months on the job. They closed the meeting to the public, citing Cortez’s right to privacy in a personnel review.

Mayor Wilmot Collins told MTN the commissioners took a first look at evaluation documents. He said they will look ahead to goals for the city and the city manager at a future meeting, after they have had more time to consider the evaluation.

“Then we can say, ‘This is where we’re going, and this is where we want you to go,’” Collins said.

After the meeting, Cortez told MTN her time as city manager has been eventful.

“This has been a very interesting journey, with some challenges as any journey should have, with some learning curves that are expected in any type of journey,” she said. “Like in any type of spotlight, there are some who are going to like the performance, and some who won’t.”

Cortez took over as city manager in January. Commissioner Heather O’Loughlin said her contract called for an evaluation after six months, but it took until now to schedule it because the summer had been so busy.

As city manager, Cortez has overseen the city’s first two-year budget process – including changes to bring general fund spending in line with new priorities for the commission. She was also involved with the full implementation of a new downtown parking system.

Cortez introduced a reorganization of city departments, including creating a separate Transportation Systems Department to oversee issues like streets and parking. The reorganization also placed the Helena Civic Center under the Parks, Recreation and Open Lands Department.

“There are many opportunities for the city to improve in efficiencies, to find savings, to think differently,” Cortez said.

A number of department heads have left Helena’s government since January, including the city’s police chief and fire chief. Interim replacements are currently leading the police and fire departments. Cortez has also hired several new directors – including one for the Parks, Recreation and Open Lands Department, a job that had been vacant when she became city manager.

In addition, an outside investigation cleared Cortez of harassment allegations from two city employees, though it recommended that more be done to improve communications between Cortez and city staff.

Commissioners say they plan another evaluation for Cortez when she reaches one year as city manager.

Cortez said she has been impressed by the Helena community’s interest and involvement in city issues.

“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised on how articulate the community members are, the neighbors – and proactive as far as gathering folks in their homes to have talking circles about various topics,” she said. “I’m so pleasantly surprised that people are comfortable coming to my office – they just drop in and we talk about issues.”

She said, going forward, she wants to meet with more local stakeholders.

“I have always felt that a city manager that spends too much time in the office loses track of reality, and I certainly feel that I spend too much time in the office, I need to get out more,” she said.