Turning City Council retreats into advances!
At our annual retreat last month, the City Council focused on better governance, or, to put it less formally: “How can we be more efficient and effective going forward?” To explore that topic, Councilmembers and staff, with the help of a facilitator, drilled down into our procedures and outcomes in 2016, and came away with some plans for change in 2017.
Last year we expanded our Council committee structure and reduced meetings of the entire Council to three per month. The large number of committee meetings, however, required more staff support time and didn’t significantly reduce the length of the full Council meetings. Good work was done in these committee meetings, but it was felt that the benefits perhaps didn’t justify the staff and Councilmember time expended.
In 2017 there will be fewer committees, and those that remain will meet less frequently, most quarterly. Committee reports will go to the full Council, accompanied by departmental reports on the relevant topics. In another change, many topics will be reviewed at the Council level first, and only then be considered for committee and/or commission.
We also addressed the problem of overly long Council meetings in 2016, many of which went past midnight, even with a 6:30 pm start. We all agreed these late meetings weren’t conducive to good decision making. To help shorten our sessions, we agreed that Councilmembers should do a better job of sticking to broad policy decisions and leaving the administrative details to the staff. But this isn’t always easy for Councilmembers, especially when a resident calls us and asks for help.
Although we’re not supposed to handle the details, it’s tough not to get involved when residents point out that you’re their elected representative. One quick plug while I’m on the subject. The easiest way to get action if you see a fallen tree, a pothole, or something else that needs attention is to file a Citizen’s Action Request (CAR) on the city website. Just go to www.sammammish.us, click on the “How Do I” tab, and select “Citizen Action Request.”
Looking back on 2016, we also concluded that public comment was partially responsible for our long meetings. Although we value and need public comment to make good decisions, there were times when the three-minute comments from the podium, in the aggregate, extended for more than two hours. Our conclusion: We need to provide more – and different – opportunities for our residents to speak their minds. So, in addition to public comment, Council office hours, personal meetings with city officials, Virtual Town Hall, and other well established forums for discussion, we decided at the retreat to expand our use of resident roundtable meetings, much like the one we successfully executed on the topic of growth last year.
Good governance, of course, always depends on good financial practices, so that too was an important part of our retreat conversation. With the infrastructure expenditures that lie ahead, how are we going to maintain the rock-solid financial foundation Sammamish is famous for? The answer to that question, at least in part, will come from you, our residents. Before we settle the issue at a financial retreat in July, we plan to have a robust public outreach effort on this very topic. I certainly hope you’ll look at the options with us, give us your best thoughts, and help transform our retreats into advances!
Don Gerend, Mayor