City Council workshops need degree of formality

Public business deserves better
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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Monthly workshop meetings of the Lincoln City Council were introduced at the city’s strategic planning session Jan. 27 and Jan. 28 with the purpose of shortening regular meetings and easing the workload of city staff.

The purpose of the monthly workshops is to give the council an informal setting to openly discuss issues at length without the pressure of reaching a formal decision.

However, it seems that decisions are being made at the monthly workshops that ought to be made at regular scheduled City Council meetings.

At the Aug. 9 Lincoln City Council meeting, the issue of the monthly workshops was on the agenda and the decision-making process was aired, specifically, how to give direction to city staff without the formality of official votes.

Giving direction to staff often requires measuring the degree of consensus among the councilmen, which, often, is the same as taking a vote.

Mayor Spencer Short was a critic of the workshops at the January retreat and does not seem to have softened his stance.

“Decisions have been made at the work sessions when they were supposed to be informal,” Short said, Aug. 9. “The study sessions should be more formal.”

City Councilman Stan Nader, at the Aug. 9 meeting, said the manner in which staff is given direction – head-nodding – was laughable.

“People don’t view head-nodding as a professional way of giving direction,” Nader said.

City Councilman Paul Joiner, at the Aug. 9 meeting, seemed to disagree with Nader and Short.

“If we get to a point in the workshops where we are making a final decision, we need to bring it back to a regular meeting,” Joiner said. “I remain supportive and would like to see audio recordings. I resist video because I don’t want to add the cost.”

If the workshop meetings are important and public business is discussed, then the meetings should be held in a manner that allows the public to observe and participate.

Additionally, the workshop meetings, which are held in City Hall’s first floor meeting room instead of the council chambers, are difficult to follow by members of the public. The meetings could be improved by:

  • Providing council and staff with microphones. The City Councilmen and city staff do not have microphones and are hard to hear.
  • The meetings are not video-taped and are poorly recorded because of the lack of microphones.
  • Councilmen and staff are additionally hard to hear because of the horseshoe configuration used for the meetings. At the workshop meetings, members of the public end up sitting behind city staff. This could be easily fixed by lining the council along the window with staff to the left and right and members of the public facing them.

The workshops were also touted as a reason for the consolidation of the personnel, public utilities, public safety and streets committees into a monthly “special” City Council meeting. The monthly workshops ought to have regularly scheduled updates on public safety, public utilities and streets.