Watkins Addresses Auburn Resignation

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He's spent more than three decades in city government. Now, David Watkins may spend more as Bryan's city manager. However, that lone finalist for the position did have to answer about his short stint in Auburn, Alabama, one that ended earlier than expected.

Watkins has been in town before. He'll be back on September 17 to tour the city and meet with the council and staff. And it's with the council and staff in Auburn that issues arose during his two-and-a-half years there.

In an interview with Watkins Friday, he talked about being recruited by city officials in Auburn from his job in Lenexa, Kansas. But when he got there, he said expectations and relationships weren't what they should have been, which ultimately led to his resignation after a poor performance evaluation.

"I thought I was getting along here very well," Watkins said from Auburn. "My first evaluation here, I received excellent marks. The second year, I started implementing what I thought was the council's strong directive to me to begin dealing with some very strong developer issues we have hear in Auburn."

As Watkins tells it, Auburn was facing environmental issues as the city grew, so he was tasked to control development better.

"I started backing the staff's efforts to bring some of our developers under control in complying with the laws, many of which are federal," Watkins said. "I did that, but it became obvious that I did not have the political support to do that."

In a 2005 job evaluation, based on a five-point scale, with five being the highest, the city council gave him a 3.63.

But maybe more glaring is the score by 14 members of Watkins' management team surveyed: a mere 2.62 average, with very low marks in categories concerning direction, support, creativity and prioritizing.

The full performance evaluation can be found at http://www.auburnalabama.org/images2006/summary.pdf

Watkins explained that his style was an unfortunate clash with his predecessor's, and that a veteran staff in Auburn was not receptive to the change.

"I believe in empowerment and wanting department heads to be innovating and bring me ideas and help brainstorm and problem solve," said Watkins. "That's what I've done my entire career. The department heads here were much more used to being given direct orders and having the manager make all the decisions, and that's just not my style."

In February, an exit deal with the city was reached, and Watkins resigned. In a letter to the citizens of Auburn, their mayor, Bill Ham wrote, "The results of the 2005 performance review are by no means the first communication to Mr. Watkins that performance problems existed."

The full statement of Ham can be found at http://www.auburnalabama.org/review.htm

Bryan's mayor, Ernie Wentrcek, offered just a brief statement on Watkins' past employment Friday, saying, "The council has reviewed all of that information, but we are not concerned by it."

Watkins was employed for nearly 20 years at the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa, Kansas, as well as in the Kansas community of Ottawa.

Late Friday, the mayor of Lenexa, Michael Boehm, returned a call from News 3, saying that Watkins was a fine, model city administrator in his two decades there. Both he and Watkins also explained that Watkins' departure from Lenexa to Auburn was an opportunity for a Tiger alum to return to his home state of Alabama.