Observations on the New City Council

May 6, 2013 | Economy, Government & Policy

The 7-person City Council has 3 new members. That much change in the group that runs city government is always a matter of interest, if not concern. One of the first indications of where city government is headed and how the Council will work together comes at the City Council Retreat, which usually takes place about a month after the elections.

The Council met in a retreat this past weekend and representatives of the Chamber attended as observers. Other than Coloradoan reporter Kevin Duggan and senior members of the city staff, representatives of the Chamber were the only other people in attendance. The Council met Friday evening and most of Saturday for a total of 12 hours.

The topics could be lumped into two broad categories: how the city government and City Council function and strategic priorities of the city government and the council members. Specifically, sessions included:

– The Fort Collins Brand
– Council Dynamics, Roles and Expectations
– Procedural Review. Included here were zoning appeals and Urban Renewal Authority items, Work Session procedures, the Council Planning Calendar, Council Procedural Rules and Robert’s Rules and how Ordinances and Resolutions are initiated.
– The Fort Collins Strategic Plan. Included here were discussions of Economic Health, Transportation, Safe Community, Community and Neighborhood Livability, Culture and Recreation, Environmental Health and High Performing Government

It’s too early to tell how the new group will work together and how they will tackle issues. But here are a few observations:

– There was a nice spirit of goodwill. Gone were the over-politicization, posturing and grandstanding of recent City Councils. A general sense of comity prevailed.
– The focus was on doing what’s good for the community. Absent was flagrant agenda pushing.
– Differences of philosophy are still evident. Some clearly were on the side of job creation and a strong economy whereas a couple of other council members were advocates of a ‘stable economy’ and a ‘self-sustaining community.’ These are code phrases for stopping population growth, but at least the flagrant anti-business rhetoric was gone.
– City staff seemed more relaxed. While curious about the new Council, you sensed that they weren’t bracing for the next harangue from a council member.
– There was a lot of conversation about shared vision to continue to create a great community. One council member said “We can see farther because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.” He was making the point that the community has a long tradition of city councils doing the right thing and that the current council and community benefits from that and needs to pay it forward.
– City Manager Darin Atteberry reminded them that the Council plays a role in adding to or depleting the City’s brand by their actions and words every Tuesday night.
– Senior city staffers got a chance to discuss how Council behavior impacts them. One of them said “When we are attacked we muster a lot of energy to respond and defend. We’re back on our heels” instead of charging forward.
– To general acclaim by all of the Council members, one of the new ones said “I want to believe that we don’t have factions but we can work together and respect each other…I think we can be a great City Council.”  

That final sentiment will be sorely tested this week as the City Council considers the incentive package to redevelop the Foothills Mall. Here’s hoping they mean it.