Sunday, January 18, 2009

RETREAT! 2009 Day One

Council spent the better part of the morning discussing and evaluating council’s performance over the last year. This included a review of expectations and goals we set at last year’s retreat. After this review Council members were asked to choose 3 items we thought we performed well on, and 3 we thought we still needed to improve on. I won’t waste your time telling you about where we believed we excelled. Council did agree that we could do better regarding allowing each member the freedom to express their views, but ultimately supporting the decision of the council. Simply put, feel free to argue your position, but once the debate and vote is over it’s over. You win some – you lose some. Continuing to bring up the same issue over and over and over again wastes valuable time and is disruptive and disrespectful. Council also felt we could do better in regards to district and at-large councilor communications.

Next was staff's opportunity to give their perspective on council’s performance. According to staff – and I trust them and really appreciate their honesty btw – we need to do better at identifying the problem instead of focusing on solutions. We have professional employees to help with problem solving, but they need to know what the problem is first before they can help find a solution. The would also like us to do better in regards to raising questions in advance of meetings since it would help them to be better prepared, and for us to be cognizant of how our requests or initiatives impact resources – both time and financial.

After a quick break council the discussed how to better manage and respond to all the different inputs we receive from citizens, boards and commissions, town staff, government officials, and other government entities or associations. Much of the discussion centered around better defining the roles and responsibilities of our boards and commissions, as well as that of the council liaison. Council also discussed how to improve communication between the different groups and council. There was discussion about looking into professional management computer software, but thankfully that idea was abandoned. We do not need to spend money on fancy computer programs to better communicate with one another – we already have a fancy tool for that – it’s called a phone.

Following lunch we began the community visioning discussion. Council had authorized staff to issue requests for proposals (RFP’s) to consultants a few months ago and staff informed us they have since received 26 proposals for review. After a summary of next steps and time frame we heard from Dan Klatt, an Alderman from Franklin, Tennessee and Vince Papsidero, Planning Administrator from Columbus, Ohio regarding the visioning processes conducted by their municipalities. Both made very informative presentations and it was helpful to learn more about the visioning process from those who have already undertaken such an endeavor. Following their presentations and a after lot of Q+A and follow up discussion there appeared to be consensus that Cary conducting a visioning process would be valuable – especially in regards to infill development and redevelopment such as in our downtown area, but the key issue some folks were struggling with (especially with me) was cost. Staff estimates this process could cost upwards of $500,000.00. In a bad economy when revenues are down and we are looking at serious budget constraints I do not believe this to be a priority right now. We left the first day of the retreat without a decision one way or the other on whether to pursue a community visioning initiative.

The most valuable part of the day to me was the early morning discussion between council and staff. Much of the visioning presentation/discussion could have been covered in a worksession or similar meeting. But the opportunity to discuss our performance amongst peers and town staff really only presents itself once a year at the retreat. Discovering what our weaknesses are will help us better focus on them – we can’t fix what we don’t know is broken - and we will become a better council as a result. Good stuff.