City Attorney’s Performance Evaluations Finally Made Public
But Questions Arise Concerning Information Deleted from Evaluations
Updated Sunday September 5, 2010 1:15pm
Georgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow was tenacious about trying to keep his performance evaluations from being released. The Austin Bulldog filed an open records request for copies of these evaluations on May 16, 2010.
Sokolow stated his case for withholding his evaluations in his May 28 letter to the Attorney General and, when he got a decision he didn’t like, he filed a lawsuit to contest the decision—without asking the City Council for permission.
He could have lost his job over this and, as reported by The Austin Bulldog on August 24, there was evidence that powerful Republican officials and ordinary citizens alike were fed up with the negative publicity being generated by Sokolow’s actions and were calling for his dismissal.
Instead, the Georgetown City Council on August 24 voted 7-0 to direct him to drop the lawsuit and release his performance evaluations, minus information the Texas Attorney General ruled may be withheld for attorney-client privilege.
After the council meeting that night, Mayor George Garver told The Austin Bulldog that in the closed-door executive session, the council decided to devise a standard way of evaluating the performance of not only the city attorney but that of the city manager and city secretary, all of whom report directly to the council.
On August 25, Council Member Tommy Gonzales told The Austin Bulldog that the city lacks a good method of formally evaluating the work of these key city officials. “No expectations have been set, and no goals or objectives either,” he said. “We’re trying to find the best way to protect Georgetown and be fair to all parties concerned.”
Deletions raise questions
The Austin Bulldog received Sokolow’s performance evaluations August 25, seven pages in all. Some of the information on every page has been redacted (blacked out).
On condition of maintaining the source’s anonymity, The Austin Bulldog also obtained copies of the original and complete evaluations that Council Members Patty Eason and Gabe Sansing wrote about Sokolow’s performance as city attorney, and has confirmed with these council members that these copies are complete and accurate.
Comparing information contained in Eason and Sansing’s evaluations of Sokolow’s performance to the redacted versions indicates certain portions were withheld that do not appear to qualify for the attorney-client privilege.
Redacted from Council Member Eason’s evaluation: “He is not the personal attorney for individual City Council members. He has no authority to take any action or participate in any activities that have not been officially passed and approved by a majority of the City Council.”
Redacted from Council Member Sansing’s evaluation: “The city attorney should take direction from the entire council, not one or two members. He answers to and takes direction from eight bosses.”
Neither Eason nor Sansing would comment further about their evaluations, or indicate what caused them to mention this particular criticism.
City Attorney Sokolow has not responded to an e-mail and telephone message to answer questions about this matter.
The seven pages of evaluations released include a two-page compilation that Council Member Dale Ross prepared. Ross says he compiled the comments of Mayor George Garver; Council Members Ben Oliver and Keith Brainard (both of whom left the council in early May); and included some of his own.
The remaining five pages of the evaluations contain evaluations by Council Members Pat Berryman, Patty Eason, and Gabe Sansing, plus additional comments by Mayor Garver.
Council Members Danny Meigs and Tommy Gonzalez were elected in early May, after the council had discussed Sokolow’s performance in a closed-door executive session and granted him a raise.
Because of the number of blacked-out comments on the evaluations released, it’s not possible to completely understand what council members who participated in his review had to say about Sokolow’s first six months as Georgetown city attorney. But patterns do emerge.
On the positive side, the compilation prepared by Council Member Ross praised Sokolow for effectively navigating an initial period when he had no legal assistance, often working lengthy hours; for hiring an assistant city attorney and legal assistant in a timely manner (no mention was made of the City Charter violation involved in hiring the assistant city attorney, as reported by The Austin Bulldog on July 11); and having a grasp of relevant legal issues.
Berryman’s evaluation praises Sokolow for working hard to raise the standards for contracting, documents, and legal instruments, and hiring a qualified staff.
On the negative side, four of the five evaluations criticized Sokolow for referring too much to his work in other organizations—particularly Port Arthur, where he served as city attorney for 13 years before taking the job in Georgetown.
“This is not Port Arthur and we do not do things the same way that they do them in Port Arthur,” Eason wrote.
Berryman wrote, “…it would be good to refer to his past experiences through a broader prism than his most recent employer.”
Mayor Garver wrote, “He has not earned the respect of staff. They are not impressed with his frequent referral to Port Arthur as an example of how Georgetown should be doing business.”
Four of the five evaluations also criticized his lack of technological skills.
“I feel like he misled the council during his interview about his computer skills,” Sansing wrote. “When I heard that he had put in for an electric typewriter, I about fell out of my chair!” (According to information obtained by The Austin Bulldog through an open records request, the city paid $1,408 for a Dell Latitude e6500 laptop computer that was purchased on December 19, 2009, and issued to Sokolow.)
Three of the evaluations criticized Sokolow for poor listening skills.
Mayor Garver wrote, “It would be most helpful if Mark could refine his listening skills.”
Sansing wrote, “Mr. Sokolow needs to talk less and listen more. One cannot hear what someone is saying if they are constantly talking.”
The consideration for a raise was outlined in Section 3A of Sokolow’s employment agreement, which states, “After the first initial six months, the City will review and consider an annual increase of $5,000 to be added to the base salary.”
Sokolow started as Georgetown city attorney on October 19, 2009. He completed six months on the job on April 18, 2010.
One final note: All of Sokolow’s written evaluations were dated in May except Berryman’s, which was not dated. Although Sokolow’s performance was discussed in a closed-door executive session before granting the raise, the evaluations were written later.
This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Austin Bulldog has many other investigative projects waiting to be funded. You can bring these investigations to life by making a tax-deductible contribution.