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City Manager Criticized For Budget Problems

Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz won some high marks during his annual performance evaluation, but councilors also complained about the budget process that created a nearly $6 million deficit and poor relations with the public employee union. “A certain pattern has developed here, certain unhealthy trends,” says City Councilor George Brown. Brown says he hasn’t received answers to critical budget-related questions that he submitted in April. “Why it doesn’t bother the other councilors is beyond me,” he says. “In a business environment, there’s absolutely no way that would be tolerated. It would be deemed totally unacceptable.”

Brown rated Ruiz unsuccessful, listing problems with Envision Eugene, uncompetitive surplus property sales, the withholding of budget-related information and poor scheduling of work sessions as areas that he believes to need improvement.

The basic budget information included in city documents as required by the state isn’t adequate, Brown says. Some of the budget-related questions he submitted in April remain unanswered, including how many vacant positions are in the budget, he says, so making informed judgments isn’t achievable. “If you don’t get answers to these and then you have four budget committee meetings to deliberate, and at least a third of that time is taken up by staff presentations, it’s impossible,” he says.

Councilor Betty Taylor criticized the evaluation system, saying that the community evaluators were good people but didn’t really represent Eugene. “I didn’t see any liberals or environmentalists on the list, and I felt it was not a good selection from the community,” she says.

Taylor agrees that councilors don’t have enough information regarding the budget. She says that the city manager has too many other duties to scrutinize the budget for efficiencies and the city needs an independent performance auditor. “I think we should put that on the ballot and ask the people if they want it,” she says. 

Ruiz, whose salary has increased $20,411 to his current pay of $182,561 in the five years he’s worked for the city, declined his evaluation-based, contractual merit pay raise of $6,390 in light of the city’s budget troubles. Ruiz’s deferred compensation — money he will receive at a later date — increased to $17,000. Salem’s city manager, who was also hired in 2008, earns $159,578 per year.

Other criticisms from council included poor relations with public employee union AFSCME, the need to improve Eugeneans’ relationship with EPD and the need to foster more involvement with west Eugene and Bethel leaders.

Evaluation comments praised Ruiz for better working relationships with city staff and his responsiveness to Eugene City Council goals and directions. Councilors also noted that goals such as the revitalization of downtown and West Eugene EmX have advanced under Ruiz’s tenure.

Pryor, who rated Ruiz excellent, as did five other councilors, says that Ruiz often takes the blame for simply following the City Council’s direction. “He got a lot of the blame for the election that we just held about the fee,” Pryor says, but Ruiz’s first two recommendations to raise the stormwater fee and have a serial levy to cover the deficit were rejected by the council. “Ultimately the responsibility for the budget of the city of Eugene rests with the City Council because they are the only body that votes to approve budgets,” Pryor says.