Sparks City Council members on Monday said it had been a difficult year at the city and they were concerned about the low scores tallied in the annual performance review for Sparks City Manager Neil Krutz.
Despite those concerns, Krutz narrowly avoided termination in a 3-3 vote by council members and Mayor Ed Lawson.
“Mr. Krutz has an exemplary record, never been written up for anything, has no blemishes on his record, and everybody has a bad year,” Lawson said.
Krutz’s termination was put on the council’s agenda at the request of Council member Dian VanderWell following a poor annual performance review. VanderWell said she had concerns about Krutz’s performance despite 25 years of management experience and hours of leadership training each year.
The annual review resulted in an average score of 2.5 on a scale of zero to six, a sharp decline from past reviews. He was rated lowest in leadership.
Sparks Human Resources Director Jill Valdez said that generating positive employee morale was listed as one of the areas where Krutz was asked to improve.
“Surveys may say good, but talk in the hallways isn’t,” she said.
Krutz has faced a number of challenges over the past year including the firing of a newly-hired fire chief who now faces criminal charges and an ethics complaint filed by the Sparks firefighters’ union.
“There’s a lot of perspectives that are coming into this evaluation,” Council member Kristopher Dahir said. “I think we’ve seen a pretty consistent leadership … and this time there has been some shift in that. What matters is that we in Sparks get to function as a whole so I’m concerned.”
Dahir said he didn’t see a reason for termination with cause, but questioned whether Krutz could put in the work needed to improve his performance and relationships with elected leaders and city staff.
“If you are retained, are you willing to put in what it takes to bring that trust? One way or another, there has to be change,” Dahir said.
Council member Charlene Bybee said this was her ninth city manager review and she’d never seen a score this low. She added that it caused her great concern for the trust in leadership.
Krutz said it has been a difficult year but that he looks forward to getting to a less troubled time.
“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I love it. I love what I do,” Krutz said. “I am not perfect, and I would never claim to be. But I am, as was noted in the evaluation, surrounded by good people at all levels in the city.”
“Being an effective manager is going to lead to disagreements in the way things are done and with some decisions that get made. I understand that and I respect that,” he added.
In discussing his performance, Krutz pointed out his five years of success in presenting the city with a clean budget, but did not address the leadership and morale concerns expressed by council members.
Council member Paul Anderson supported Krutz during discussion of the evaluation, and suggested that council members take time to talk to Krutz when they have issues with his leadership or work.
“I would challenge any of us here to ask themselves if they have ever stumbled in their careers,” Anderson said. “I was surprised by all zeroes because we have the opportunity to discuss our goals and frustrations throughout the year.”
Council members Donald Abbott and VanderWell disagreed with Anderson’s assessment.
“I 100% agree that we all do make mistakes. But I think there’s been many mistakes made over the years,” Abbott said. “I think we have an opportunity today to do what is right not only for the future of our city but also for the 800 employees that we have at the City of Sparks.”
After approving Krutz’s annual review council members had the option to keep him on staff or fire him with or without cause. Firing him without cause would require a 90-day notice and for the city to pay out one year of severance including all pay, benefits and contractual bonuses.
Council members VanderWell, Abbott and Bybee all voted in favor of firing Krutz without cause, but Dahir and Anderson voted against the motion. Mayor Lawson cast the deciding vote to retain Krutz.
Krutz’s contract continues through June 30, 2025. He was not eligible for any pay raises this year because he is already at the top of his salary range.