Farmer removed from EDC director position, amid conflicting reports
By LYNETTE SOWELL
The Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation is now without an executive director, after Marc Farmer was suddenly removed from that position as of the close of business on Wednesday, not even six months into the job, reportedly with the ultimatum—resign, or be fired.
Via an open records request, the Leader-Press obtained a six-page letter from Roy Davis, the city’s human resources director, addressed to Farmer with the subject line “Notice of Removal – Unsatisfactory Performance during Initial Evaluation Period.”
The November 9 letter stated that Farmer’s performance “has been at best marginal and a number of efforts have been made to help you improve your performance and make you aware that you were not meeting expectations.”
Farmer’s removal may seem abrupt, particularly after Copperas Cove voters gave a resounding “no” to the creation of a municipal development district, or MDD, the first step in dissolving the CCEDC.
However, according to that November 8 letter, trouble began brewing for Farmer as far back as July.
The document refers to a July 11 meeting between Farmer, city manager Andrea Gardner, and Davis, during which the need was discussed for Farmer to create a “board-driven vision for the EDC, not a Marc Farmer vision. We discussed the best way to do this would be through an EDC retreat and how to schedule one.”
Discussion also surrounded a May 29 request from EDC board member Adam Martin to work on an agreement for lease space for the EDC in the new technology building, something which Farmer had not worked on as of that July meeting. Farmer also failed to take action on completing an application to serve as the city’s rep on the board of the Development District of Central Texas, something which had been requested of him by Gardner when he was first hired.
The July 11 meeting was eventually followed by a September 15 meeting “to discuss ongoing performance issues” which included lack of preparation for presentations as well as the August 7 special EDC meeting during which the EDC’s then-uncontracted new law firm was present, ready to do business on behalf of the EDC. Davis wrote that Farmer knew the attorneys were in town as of 8:00 that morning and did not inform the city manager.
Again, retreat planning was discussed. “You stated you were just going to get them together in a room with a white board and ‘pound it out’ and you did not need an agenda. The city manager again explained how agendas worked, the purpose of the Texas Open Meetings Act, what needed to be done to get items into Agenda Quick, the time frames involved and how to avoid walking quorums when communicating with the board regarding a date for the meeting (using bcc and Lucy [Aldrich]).”
The letter also included Farmer’s lack of completing administrative work, something that Davis said had been stressed to Farmer during the job interview process prior to him being hired, that “these positions were working director positions with small functional staff and that the directors did the bulk of the administrative work.”
Davis noted in the letter that Gardner recommended Farmer request approval from the EDC board to add an administrative position, “to take care of those things that you were having problems with.”
Farmer put on “performance improvement plan”
On October 2, Farmer was put on a three-month performance improvement plan to focus on giving presentations, scheduling meetings, planning a retreat by December 1. Several dates were set for Farmer to meet those improvement areas.
Davis wrote that Farmer was late for the November 6 city directors’ agenda review meeting, and at that meeting, the city manager talked with him again about avoiding walking quorums and the need to post information items. According to the letter, Farmer told Gardner he’d never had to worry about that—a walking quorum—and that he was “bringing in millions of dollars” and was “untouchable,” that he was “a salesman and not good at all this other stuff.”
Gardner said she understood that, but “the City Secretary, the Human Resources Director and I would not continue to do all the administrative pieces of your job that you keep failing at. I again directed you to present to the board your needs for administrative assistance.”
The proverbial last straw was Farmer’s presentation regarding the lease agreement to the council at Tuesday night’s meeting, which was “so poor that the council went off on a tangent trying to understand what the purpose of the item was and started discussing the wrong issue.”
There has been speculation that Farmer’s dismissal was a retaliatory action due to the non-passage of the MDD proposition by local voters.
Former EDC board chair, council members weigh in
Recently dismissed EDC board member Marc Payne gives a different take on Farmer’s performance, citing factors, some of which contradict Gardner’s letter of removal.
Payne said Farmer had had health issues which required increased doctor visits and testing, but Farmer had that handled.
“As for his performance, he was doing great until management reduced his budget, held meetings upon meetings, and then held off hiring employees to handle the increased paperwork management piled on him. Under the EDC, the Executive Director had four employees. Under the EDD, the Director had one employee to do everything,” Payne said.
Payne’s remarks came in stark contrast to the letter in which it was stated that Gardner had urged Farmer to ask the EDC board—of which Payne was chair at the time—to approve the addition of an administrative employee to lessen his administrative workload.
As far as the EDD budget, it is approved by the EDC board and must also be approved by the city council. According to EDC agendas over the last six months, there are no requests by Farmer for any new personnel or budget adjustments, aside from the recent budget amendment approved by both the EDC and city council Tuesday night for support for an area grant application.
Payne said it was clear from the start in June that management wanted to “force” Farmer out of the job.
“While I was President of the EDC Board of Directors, his requests were routinely denied and he was given busy work to impede his success. Possibly, some of this interference was because, no one (except two of the councilmen) in the city understands what an EDC does or how it does it.”
Several city council members weighed in on Farmer’s performance and dismissal. The city council, according to the city charter, is responsible for overseeing the city manager and no other city employees.
“Since he is a city employee, it is not my position to evaluate his performance, but the city manager’s job. Also, I did not know about any job-related issues with Mr. Farmer,” said James Pierce Jr., place 2 councilman.
“I was aware of issues with his performance over the past several months,” said councilman George Duncan. “Contrary to recent rumors about his departure this had nothing to do with election results but had everything to do with documented, long-term performance challenges which he had every opportunity to resolve.”
Councilman David Morris, the council’s EDC liaison, said that the possibility of Farmer’s dismissal “should come as no surprise” to any of the EDC board members, and that the board was made aware that Farmer had been put on a performance improvement plan.
“As to the specifics of that performance improvement plan, that was not discussed in the board meeting. The city manager simply addressed the board members present and explained to them that this was going on and stated she did not want them to be surprised if Marc Farmer one day was no longer a part of the city staff.”
The Leader-Press reached out to the two longest-serving EDC board members, Christian Mulvey and Adam Martin, for comment, but did not receive a response before press time Thursday.
Farmer, reached by phone on Thursday morning, said he didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong, despite the “underperformance” which led to his dismissal.
“There’s a lot of companies we’ve made contact with, and one of them was going to make a visit next week, so I’ve kind of shut that down and I’m figuring out what I’m going to do. I hate to put it this way, but I guess I didn’t drink the cool-aid,” Farmer said, adding that he’s already received a few job offers. “It’s kind of funny how word gets around. It was spreading before I even got home.”
Farmer said he and his family are going to stay in the area, and he might even open up a business.
“Cove’s a good place. They just need the right leadership and right direction, and they’ll be just fine.”
Farmer was previously the President and CEO of the Jacksonville (Texas) Economic Development Corporation and had started at the CCEDC on May 22.
Complete text of the Notice of Removal – Unsatisfactory Perfomance During Initaial Evaluation period is available here.