The Spokane City Council came away from last weekend’s retreat with proposals for new policies, goals and communication skills.
Time alone will tell if the council’s new-found harmony lasts, but members vowed earlier this week to take the plans to heart.
“We came away from the retreat with very effective ways to run the city,” said Mayor Jack Geraghty. “We found more efficient ways that we can serve you.”
Notes on the retreat - available in packet form for the public next week - outline what taxpayers got for their $7,200 contract with Dr. Bill Mathis, a California consultant who helped lead discussions.
The packet details what went on and how things might change at City Hall during the next few months.
Before the retreat, Mathis studied tapes of council meetings and declared the seven-member panel a “little dysfunctional.” He noted that members needed to find better ways to communicate.
Council members vowed after the retreat to stick to new communication rules - stay on topic, not ask leading questions and not interrupt.
Always remember, “all opinions are OK,” Mathis told them.
They agreed to five top priorities, including:
Transportation and other infrastructure needs.
Streamlining City Hall operations.
Council members spend long evenings together every week, but several said they never really knew each other until the retreat.
“We came to understand our various strengths and weaknesses,” said Councilman Joel Crosby.
Mathis asked each member to assess his or her strengths.
Chris Anderson described himself as independent, candid and open. Bev Numbers called herself tenacious, up-front and energetic.
Phyllis Holmes considered herself people- and task-oriented. Mike Brewer said he was futuristic and has a diversity of experience.
Crosby described himself as committed and a willing listener. Geraghty said he was a consensus builder and visionary.
Orville Barnes left the retreat early the first day when serious stomach pains landed him in Valley Hospital, where doctors removed his enlarged appendix.
Council members suggested several changes in the way they do business:
Agendas should be “userfriendly,” described both in legal form and in language everyone can understand.
Items should be placed on the agenda at least 10 days before a meeting - no last-minute items.
Agendas should be available Wednesday - instead of Thursday - before the regular Monday meeting.
A council member and the assistant city manager should discuss the agenda with the public at 3 p.m. every Monday.
The council should dispense with the consent agenda - routine business items - during the Monday briefing. Controversial items could be removed from the consent agenda by the council or the public and discussed during the regular meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Orville Barnes should be the “stay on topic” man, keeping council members and the public to the subject at hand.
Every other week, study sessions should replace Thursday briefings. The sessions would be led by one council member and stick to one issue, with input from both the council and the public.
Similar to “user-friendly” agendas, staff presentations should be tailored to the public and easier to understand.
Council members should set office hours at City Hall.
Council members divided into committees to study the suggestions and plan to report back during the next few months on implementation.
Anderson, who went into the retreat a doubter but emerged a believer, said he saw “some huge strides” taken by the council.
Once in place, the new policies will allow better input from everybody, Anderson said.
“Everyone on this council gave something,” he said. “And everyone on this council got something.”
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