I’m sometimes asked why Council seems to rubber stamp whatever I put in front of them.
It may seem as though there is no consideration given when the actual vote is taken, but let me explain how we get to Tuesday night’s vote at each Council meeting.
When I interviewed with City Council to take this position, I laid out for them a five year plan which I’ve talked about extensively in this blog. I proposed a style of government, and changes in policies and strategies to return us to sustainable revenues by 2020. The plan covered almost every aspect of City government. City Council liked the style of the plan and its concepts and I got the job.
As I’ve moved through my first two years, everything I’ve put in front of City Council has been consistent with the five year plan I outlined when I took the job. So… as long as I’m putting things in front of them that are consistent with what I told them I was going to do and what they told me that wanted me to do, that immediately takes care of one level of scrutiny. What Council votes on looks like Doug’s duck, smells like Doug’s duck, so it’s probably Doug’s duck.
Next, City Council each year passes an annual budget a couple hundred pages long that lists by fund and by line item what I am proposing to spend in the next year. That budget is passed each November for the next year. When I bring an item to City Council, we let them know if this is part of the budget and the projects in the budget that they have already passed. If it is, then again, there is reduced scrutiny needed because they have already approved the spending and the matter before them is the actual contract for the project and for spending that they have already approved in the annual budget.
Third, we have bidding requirements set by state law and local ordinance. If the matter before council requires bidding, we include information showing that we followed the appropriate bidding process and why we selected the vendor chosen. If project was in the budget and the money is appropriated for that project, and we followed the bidding procedures, then less scrutiny is needed. The matter is consistent with the five year plan, in the budget, and properly bid.
Finally, we have items or opportunities or problems that come up unexpectedly during the year. The burden is on city staff to provide City Council with enough information ahead of time to make educated decisions on unexpected events. Grants are notorious for having a small window to apply for and then spend the funds provided.
For example, we recently were awarded a grant from BWC for two power cots to assist in lifting patients into ambulances. The funds were released quickly and the window to order the cots and spend the money was less than the 60 days normally required for two readings and 30 days to take effect. So that one was an Emergency.
For each item to be taken before City Council requiring legislation, I have the relevant department head prepare a staff report that explains why the legislation is needed, where the funding will come from, which project this relates to, etc. Those staff reports are due about two weeks before the actual council meeting date.
I review and approve the staff reports two Thursdays before the actual meeting. For the February 21 meeting, I approved the staff reports on February 9th. After approving the staff reports, I send City Council information letting them know the tentative subjects of the upcoming meeting and the general nature of what will be coming before them.
If there is something unusual, I try to provide more thorough information earlier so that they can think about the issue and ask preliminary questions. When one council member asks a question, I answer the question and send the information to all Council members for review.
On the Wednesday before the City Council meeting, or in this case, February 15th for the February 21 meeting, I have a senior staff meeting and we review the entire agenda and staff reports and finalize the next week’s meeting.
At that point, the final agenda and the workbook for the meeting is sent to each Council member with all staff reports and documents needed to be ready to vote on Tuesday for the meeting. This is the agenda and workbook that are posted on the City web page for public review.
City Council then has from about Thursday afternoon the prior week to the council meeting at 5:30pm on Tuesday night to review the detailed information provided and ask any final questions before the meeting.
My policy has always been that City Council can ask anything about anything on the agenda up until Tuesday night. On Tuesday night, I want them to come to Council with all of their questions answered and with a full understanding of what I want them to vote on. The only question Tuesday night should generally be whether or not to pass the legislation presented. They should fully understand what we are proposing and why we believe it is in the best interest of the city to pass the requested legislation.
If there is a serious problem with what I have proposed, generally it would have been raised by City Council two weeks ago when I first told them what was coming on the agenda. At that point, we can either answers questions and provide information sufficient to resolve their concerns, or we can pull the items from the agenda before we finalize the meeting because City Council is not ready to move forward with whatever the issue is in its current form.
So theoretically, Tuesday is a pretty mundane experience. All questions previously and completely answered. All information previously provided. City Council makes a fully understood and educated decision on each piece of legislation.
Don’t be upset that your council doesn’t ask a lot of questions on Tuesday night. You should be confident that a mundane Tuesday night means that your City Council has done their homework and had all of their questions answered, documentation provided, and that they are making informed decisions on each item presented.
Most of the time, that’s exactly how it goes….