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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Dysfunctional’ Council Is Going To See A Shrink

A California consultant Thursday summed up the Spokane City Council the same way some critics have for years.

“This group looks a little dysfunctional to me,” said Bill Mathis, hired by the council to help set goals for the coming year. “This is not working very well.”

Council members must be able to communicate before they can decide what they want to do in 1995, said Mathis, who was in Spokane this week to plan for the council’s Jan. 20-21 retreat at the Airport Ramada Inn.

“The first rule is: ‘Don’t interrupt,”’ he said. “We need to set some ground rules on how to treat each other.”

Mathis reached his conclusion after watching eight hours of taped council meetings and holding separate meetings with each council member.

The clinical psychologist who specializes in helping city and county governments work as a team said he looks at the council much the way he would at someone lying on a counseling couch.

“It’s like marriage counseling,” he said.

Councilman Joel Crosby was quick to agree with Mathis’ description of the council.

“It is dysfunctional,” he said, adding there are no clear policies on how the council is supposed to work.

Instead of focusing on long-term goal-setting during the retreat, Mathis said he plans to focus on communication skills. Council members need to understand how their colleagues make decisions so they can talk to one another without anger and frustration.

“One council member is very bottom-line,” Mathis said. “He needs to know where you’re going before he’ll listen to the whole spiel. Another likes to know the entire history and background before they make a decision.”

Mathis’ final bill to the city will be at least $7,000 - depending on how much time he ultimately spends in Spokane. Since its original agreement with Mathis, the council added items to the discussion list that upped the estimated cost, said City Manager Roger Crum.

“I’m more expensive than some others, and I don’t apologize for that,” Mathis said.

“I can do a service to the public sector - coaching (the council) to better behavior, which leads to better performance to the public good.”

While Mayor Jack Geraghty said he wouldn’t go so far as to call the council dysfunctional, he did say the group needed to communicate more effectively.

“Last week, I made the facetious remark that we didn’t need a facilitator, we needed a psychiatrist. Turns out this guy is a psychologist.”

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