City Council Planning Meeting/Jan. 2006

FIRST POSTED JAN. 2006 - Has Anything Changed ?

From notes and observations of the City Council meeting to plan the City Council Retreat:

From the meeting - not necessarily in this order with my comments in italics:

•Mayor Holliday, City Mgr. Johnson and seven Council Members sat around a big table in the Plaza Conference Room (one arrived a little late). New Mayor Pro-tem was absent. A few staff members and some media folks sat around the sides of the room.

•Mayor Holliday at one end of table, Peg Carlson, facilitator at other end of table. Several plates of cookies and some papers were on the table.

•Meeting seemed to be driven by the Mayor and Council discussion. Facilitator mostly made several suggestions, asked a few questions and took notes. She will make a proposed agenda for the retreat using suggestions from the meeting. She seemed very nice and competent.

•Mayor started off the meeting with the same old worn out phrases about the city being at a cross roads, facing new challenges and wanting to go forth in an efficient way, yatta yatta yatta.

•Facilitator Carlson, who is an organizational psychologist, asked for council members to suggest themes and objectives for the retreat. She had talked briefly to each council member before the meeting and a had made a list of some suggestions for discussion that had been mentioned in those conversations. She wanted to know what issues Council Members feel strongly about.
SOME WERE: Strategic Directions, Long Term Goals, Focus on Issues as a Team, Background Information from staff and city manager, Budget/Bond Issues, Transit, Briefing Sessions, Budget Process, Trends information (What is Trends Information?) and Open-Minded Discussions.

•Mayor Holliday said that everybody knows we need a bond referendum and that we need to know what is essential and what is non-essential for the city to provide with bonds. He is also big on public/private partnerships. In talking about general debt obligtions he asked (I assume a retorical questions because he got no answer) "Are we dedicated to a Bond Issue?"

•There was some discussion about lessons learned from the 2000 Bond Issues and from previous Budget Planning Sessions. Councilwoman-at-large Gatten thinks that some bonds did not pass because there wasn't enough time to educate the voters about the issues. (I think that some bonds passed because there was not enough time to educate voters about the issues.) Councilman-at-large (correction - Phillips is the District 3 Representative, Sorry. He was an at-large member until the last election). Phillips said that the budget and bonds should be talked about at the end of the meeting if there is time. Councilwoman-at-large Yvonne Johnson wants to know more about where Economic Development Money goes. Phillips also suggested that for each item on a bond referendum there should be an explanation such as: "If I vote yes my taxes will be this much more and a time line for the increase." City Mgr. Mitch Johnson quickly responded that not all bond issues increase taxes, but he gave no examples of this happening.

•Tom Phillips suggested that we set goals first and then talk about financing them. He also said later in the meeting that "My concern is being told why we can't." He wants to be told "how can we do this, not here's why you can't." He also suggested that sometimes council members are given quick answers by the staff just to make them go away.
(my thought on this is that's the same thing some council members do to the public)

•Florence Gatten and Tom Phillips voiced concerns that most council briefing sessions are primarily presentations and are not driven by the council. Others agreed that the format for briefing sessions should be discussed at the retreat.

•Yvonne Johnson and Mayor Holliday had a discusion about putting goals into boxes of long-term, mid-term and short-term. Councilperson Johnson also suggested that the retreat should be about, "sharing our ideas about what we want our city to be" and the budget should be discusses at a later date. She thinks that talking about the budget too much can discourage real visions from being expressed.

•District 5 Councilperson Sandy Carmany said that the Budget is the Tool for Obtaining the Goals, so the goals should come first. District 2 Councilperson Goldie Wells agreed.

•Tax Increases, Annexation, Fire, Police, Waste Disposal and other essential services were mentioned as topics for discussion at the retreat.

•City Manager Johnson talked about the city's capacity to provide essential services, and also told the council that changing the way things are done will mean more work and more time spent by the council and possibly more meetings. He also said that he has heard from the council that the city needs to be more "neighborhood centric" and that one size does not fit all.

•Goldie Wells suggested that District 2 needed a higher level of services than some districts and that "Richer" Districts could share some of their resources with "Poorer" Districts. Mike Barber, District 4 Representative suggested that was a philosophical topic and could be discussed at another time. (But it actually prompted a discussion which I found to be probably the most interesting part of the meeting.)

There was a conversation about how well each council member knows the other members of the council and how much each council member actually knows about the needs of each district. (I believe that the best thing that might possibly come out of this retreat is that council members will have time to talk to each other on a personal basis and discuss things in a way that they have not done before.)

Apparently in the mock search for a new City Manager the Council got some insight about how things are done in other cities. District 1 Councilwoman Diane Bellamy-Small said that in some search sessions, "y'all put us in those little groups and made us talk."

Some other stuff happened, but I have listed the things that I found most interesting and important.

The City Council Retreat is planned for Friday, January 27, 9am-9pm and Saturday, January 28, 9am-4pm.

From my observations I think that the theme for the retreat will be Changing the Way the City Council Does Business by sharing visions, having open dialogs about needs assessments and learning more about each other. Ms. Carlson, the facilitator, put it this way: "Where to go without being constrained by the way things were done in the past."

I have High Hopes.


Sandy Carmany said...

Good observations, Diane!

A few clarifications for you -

The Mayor pro tem was absent because she got married over the holidays and was away on her honeymoon.

The Trends Report is a review of the current financial trends affecting city revenue - are sales tax collections up or down compared to last year's collections, what is the inflation rate, is unemployment up or down, are property evaluations up or down (business property is re-evaluated every year), etc. This gives the budget director and the council a general sense whether city revenue is likely to be up or down.

I can guarantee you the search for the new city manager was no "mock search." There was SERIOUS competition and consideration of another contneder. It was a hard-fought contest and Mitch earned the appointment -- it was NOT a given that he would get it.

diane said...

Hey Sandy,
Thanks for telling me what the Trends Report is. I really didn't know.

I was taking down my Christmas Tree when I thought - wait a minute, Tom Phillips is my representative from my own District 3, so I changed that.

Did I do ok with most of the rest?

Don't you think that Mitch Johnson had an inside track. I'm not saying that he will not be a good manager, just that I think the dice might have been just a little bit loaded. . .Was the City Manager from my old hometown, who got a big raise during the negotiations, in the running?

Sandy Carmany said...

Yes, Diane, you did fine with this report.

Having an inside track worked both for and against Mitch Johnson in the recent city manager search. For - because we knew him and he had detailed knowledge of city issues we would be facing. Against - because we knew he'd only worked for the City of Greensboro and we knew he hadn't been exposed to other communities, problems, innovations, ideas, etc.

I will not be revealing who the other candidates were to respect their expectation of confidentiality. Sorry!