The New Dynamics of the City Council

May 12, 2011 | Economy, Government & Policy

Fort Collins had a City Council election five weeks ago. Due to term limits, long-serving Mayor Doug Hutchinson and Council Member David Roy are gone. In their place are two Council veterans. Karen Weitkunat was elected mayor and had served for 8 years on the Council. Gerry Horak was elected to replace Roy. Horak was on the Council from 1981-94. The dynamics of the Council changed.

That was apparent at the City Council retreat last weekend. Ann Hutchison from the Chamber attended on Friday evening, and I joined in the fun on Saturday. Only two other citizens attended plus Kevin Duggan, a reporter from the Coloradoan. The only other attendees were City staffers.

The first observation is that the group has a lot of collective experience: 52 years of service on the Fort Collins City Council. And, it’s a well-educated group: 3 Ph.D.s. The discussion was somewhat spirited on Friday evening but on Saturday was cordial, even collegial at times.

I’m still sorting through my extensive notes, so I don’t want to make any predictions on what the Council’s priorities will be or how they’ll work together, but there were a few themes:

  • There is a high expectation of top level staff work and good communications on progress of various initiatives and projects.
  • Council Member Horak is a numbers guy and wants metrics, not rhetoric.
  • Council Member Wade Troxell is interested in a more forward-focused discussion about the community and the work of the City. The overall Council agreed and is planning to establish a Council level ‘futures committee.’
  • Troxell, Horak and Aislinn Kottwitz, with general support of the others, were pressing for changes to the budgeting process. As Horak put it, focus on outcomes the Council wants, then discuss inputs with staff.
  • Horak made the case that City Council needs to better understand the community’s economic model because city government’s financial success depends on it.
  • A new theme emerged at this retreat that I haven’t heard before: more focus on services to the ‘outlying’ Council districts. That basically means those farthest from downtown, including Council Member Lisa Poppaw’s east-central district, Kottwitz’s southeast district and Troxell’s in the southwest. Childcare, trail and bus services were mentioned.

There was a lot more, but that gives you a flavor. After City staff processes the discussions from the retreat, they will come back to Council for prioritization so they understand what the overall Council wants to get done.

Later there may be fireworks on specific issues, but the early conversations were constructive.