By Harry Gatjens
The Edmonds City Council had day one of their two-day retreat today at the Brackett Room of City Hall. The retreat is meant to be an opportunity to discuss the larger-picture issues and help set direction for the Council’s actions for the coming year.
The session started with a discussion of whether to take actual minutes of executive sessions rather than just notes as is the current practice. City Attorney Jeff Taraday mentioned that one of the purposes of executive sessions was to keep private council members’ discussions on particular issues. He read the Revised Code of Washington where those reasons are outlined, primarily for addressing employee performance or relations issues or items where public disclosure of negotiations on contracts, real estate transactions or similar items might compromise the City’s negotiating position.
Taraday stated that taking actual minutes would require some public exposure, as they would require approval at an open meeting and there is also no guarantee that a court would hold such minutes to be exempt from public disclosure requests. He stated that many cities are now keeping no record of executive sessions to avoid such issues.
That, however, brings up the problem of how to keep track of what is decided in executive sessions. There were various perspectives put forward on what to do on the issue. Councilmember Joan Bloom made the point that ultimately the “right thing to do” was to release minutes or notes of what goes on in executive session, with the exception of perhaps personnel issues. There may be a need to delay disclosure; for example, when discussions involved negotiations or legal issues, then the right time would be after the negotiation or legal issue was resolved. But, at the appropriate time, all should be disclosed to the citizens, Bloom said.
Others thought not having things on the record was best for protecting the city from disgruntled litigation based upon executive session discussions. They treaded very lightly on the notion that these items be “non-disclosed” versus “secret.”
The ultimate decision was to try and work out the issues and make a decision on what to do some time during the first half of 2012.
Next, the council received a presentation on “Budgeting For Outcomes” for future financial budgets. The City of Redmond’s Finance Director was supposed to make the presentation but illness forced him to miss the meeting. On quick notice, Edmonds Finance Director Sean Hunstock picked up the ball and laid out the concept for the council. Basically, the concept is a variation of zero-based budgeting — rather than basing this year’s budget on last year’s actuals plus adjustments, each new budget starts from scratch based on what we need to provide to the citizens of Edmonds and how we most efficiently provide those things.
This system requires prioritizing government services and the getting proposals from the various departments, or groups of departments, on how best provide those services. Then you approve the services down the list of priorities until you use up all the available money.
The point is that special interests are not served to the exclusion of the overall priorities of the city. The hard part, of course, is determining the priorities in the first place and the developing a system to get the proposals to meet the priorities, then making the decisions.
This is not a process that a city can convert to overnight, but those cities that use the system feel it really allows them to better allocate resource to fit the needs of their constituents.
There will be more presentations and discussions on this topic in the future, and input from the public will be key in both deciding if this is a good system and if it is, developing the priorities.
Each of the various city departments then made presentations on their plans for the year, their challenges and their expected accomplishments. The presentations give the councilmembers a good look at how the departments are implementing their 2012 plans.
The final part of day one was a discussion of the city’s code and areas that need updating.
Day two of the retreat will start at 10 a.m. Friday, again in the Brackett Room. The public is invited to attend. The agenda includes:
1. Discussion of the responsibilities of each in a Mayor/Council form of government
2. Discussions of the Roles and Responsibilities of Council Committees
3. Presentation on the Center for the Arts
4. Discussion on the Role of the Economic Development Commission
5. Introduction to Support 7 Citizen Volunteer Emergency Response