City Council Retreat Update

Back in February, City Council began a retreat process intended to do two things:  1) establish a structure for governance in Golden that clarifies the authority, roles, and responsibilities of City Council, the city manager, and other city staff; and 2) figure out Council’s vision and goals for the coming year.  I strongly supported our undertaking this process.

Why?

If our goal is an effective and efficient city government, then in my view the City Council must clearly define the role and performance expectations of the city manager, city attorney, and municipal judge (which are the only three positions that Council has the authority to hire and manage).  In the time I’ve been on Council we have never done this.

If we don’t clearly define the role and performance expectations of the city manager, we don’t have any reasonable way to evaluate his performance.  I know there are folks in the community who dislike the city manager and have wanted to fire him for a long time, but I won’t support firing somebody unless we’ve clearly spelled out what we expect, fairly evaluated his performance, and determined that he hasn’t met our expectations.  Anything else is unfair and irresponsible.

These same folks in the community often accuse the city manager of having “the wrong vision” for our community, and cite this as the reason for wanting to replace him.  In my view, the responsibility for having a vision falls on the City Council.  If we fail to have a vision, or fail to clearly communicate it to the city manager, the city manager has no choice but to use his judgment in guiding the city.  The failure is ours, not the city manager’s.  Our retreat process was designed to fix exactly this problem.  By clearly identifying our expectations, the city manager and the community will know exactly what City Council expects, and as a result our evaluation of his performance can be fair and transparent.  To this end, the Board Policy Manual we’ve been crafting over the past three months includes a very clear, rigorous, and fair system of assessing the city manager’s performance (as well as the performance of the city attorney and the municipal judge).  It also clearly spells out our expectations for ourselves.  The next step, if we continue the process, will be to prioritize our goals for the coming year.

Yet after all this City Council is now considering throwing the entire thing away.  Why?  I’m not sure I can answer that.  One of the reasons offered by a fellow councilor is that we haven’t yet prioritized our goals.  While I agree that it would have been nice to be there by now, we are well on the way, and I don’t see how quitting now gets us any closer.  The other reasons . . . well, honestly, I’m not sure what they are.

I am really disappointed that after three months of hard work creating a structure that clearly defines roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations some of my colleagues on City Council – maybe the majority – are considering throwing it away.  If you think that City Council ought to adopt a clear set of rules, roles, and performance expectations for our staff, then you might consider reaching out to your city councilor and expressing your view.

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4 Responses to “City Council Retreat Update”

  1. john kenneth doherty Says:

    I think having common goals is a valuable tool…if you don’t know where you want to go, how will you know when you get there, if you are lucky enough to be wandering in that general direction. I’ve had more experience than many with this from years of Coors management, and you may be encountering a basic problem…not everyone agrees what the goals and priorities should be. This is one of the problems of a democratic procces and I don’t know the answer. You are correct about the importance of letting a person who is trying to do a good job know what a good job looks like and many a seminar has been held on this subject. Hindsight often shows what goals should have been, but fails to show how bad it could have been without the goals one had.

    I think this is one of the things we muddle with as best we can and the problem you describe accurately has been around for a long time. Wish I knew of a few decent answers.

  2. Jacob Smith Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, and I think you are right that we may not have a shared vision about everything, but we seem to agree on enough issues that we should be able to adopt a set of goals and management expectations even if it doesn’t cover everything. At this point, however, it’s not clear if a majority will support doing even that much.

  3. City Council Rejects Accountability Plan « Golden Voices Says:

    […] I wrote at some length about this back in September (“City Council Retreat Update”), and there isn’t much new to say.  To my mind, the issue is pretty simple.  When I asked the city manager, “do you have a clear understanding of what we expect of you, and do you have a clear understanding of what you need to accomplish in order to get a good job performance review,” his answer was unequivocal:  “no.”  We had on the table in front of us a document that clearly spelled out performance expectations.  The city manager would have known exactly what we expected of him, and everyone in the community would have had an extremely clear system with which to judge his performance.  Instead we did nothing. […]

  4. City Council Rejects Accountability Plan « Jacob Smith for Golden Says:

    […] wrote at some length about this back in September (“City Council Retreat Update”), and there isn’t much new to say. To my mind, the issue is pretty simple. When I asked the […]

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