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  • Writer's pictureBecky Norton

City Council Annual Organizational Meeting

Everything is a learning curve in City Council. When we welcome new people and new voices to the table we’re going to have to expect some detours. Maybe those detours take you to a really great place you’ve never seen before. That’s why I’m excited about all the new voices at old tables.

Anyway, I met with our City Administrator over my holiday break to help me understand some processes and procedures a little better among other things. One of those questions was learning more about the president’s term. I felt that a shorter term would address a couple of items. New Council Members are expected to vote on a President, as was the case at our organizational meeting on their first day of being sworn in. Besides watching and attending City Council Meetings, we have no real feel for individuals and their leadership styles; yet, we’re expected to vote them in for a two-year term. At the end of that two year term, the next two year term would begin. The second year of that two-year term would also be an election year. For many council members, especially as we encourage more people, working people to come to the table, or dais, that is a lot to take on: full-time work, City Council Committees, Presidency and campaigning. So that may limit some members from accepting a Presidency. And, it’s a shorter commitment. Having one-year terms will hopefully allow for a stronger Council. More people eligible or willing to take on that leadership, more opportunities for the council to select an individual they feel best leads the council’s, President know he/she needs to work well to get a second or subsequent term(s).

Approving City Bills

As I’ve said, right now all the city council meetings are a giant learning curve. Certainly less with each one, but a lot of learning going into them. Mostly, it’s when to use my voice and when to keep things moving and not speak for the sake of speaking. Always a balancing act.

I missed an opportunity last night to add a comment about a council member’s points about the bills we needed to approve. It’s true, the first time I looked at a bills to approve I felt pretty overwhelmed, approving something so large. I thought, “How can I know enough about these to approve it.” But then I considered what is my role as a council member with regards to approving bills. When I was an administrator at the college we dealt with large budgets, so that’s the first thing I had to do was take deep breath and step back from the enormity of the budget. It’s huge, for most of us. But for a city, not so much. In this case I worked out that my role is to be a fifth or more set of eyes on the bills. Maybe there are items I could call a department head about and ask them about and take the time to learn more about how their department works. So my role as City Council Member is to be another set of eyes looking over the bills, and also to hire and maintain good employees all across the departments, who know how to work with their budgets. When you hire good department heads, government doesn’t have to be big brother. I don’t want our department heads to be burdened with micromanagers and having to justify and document in detail every expense--it takes time away from other valued work. I’ve worked on grants and other projects where the paperwork involved takes as much or more time as the valued work I was supposed to be accomplishing.

In short, here’s what I wished I had said yesterday that I think captures this. What if I needed a new filter and water heater for my fish tank in my classroom? Does the principal, the school board, the taxpayer want me to spend my time justifying that expense or planning and setting up tomorrow’s lessons and labs? I would like trust from the community that my aquarium is of value in my classroom. I know someone in our community could make an argue that the aquarium expense isn’t as valued over some other lab materials. I don’t want that kind of scrutiny, big brother, or the time away from my job teaching to have to address everyone’s arguments about why an expense is valid. I have that conversation with my administration. I hope the the board, the residents, etc, will trust my principal and I about my expenses and policies we have in place to be our guide, knowing that there is oversight at various levels should there be issues or corrections needed.

It’s a balancing act of transparency, checks and balances, and autonomy without unnecessary busy work taking away from the work of the people.

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