The Value of Authentically Diverse Council & Citizen Perspectives

Regarding Council Protocol

The March 27 Study Session on Council Protocols was insightful. The “big elephant” in the room was not acknowledged: the enormous value of divergent member perspectives expressed and listened to. In its place was what appeared to be an artificially imposed emphasis on like-minded mutual support. Support of the Council body was repeatedly expressed as paramount.

Nonetheless, Council members do indeed bring differing skills and perspectives to the table. Yet their expression must be encouraged, not thwarted. There is wisdom in the saying: “You will never meet anyone who does not understand things about which you lack comprehension or understanding, but each one has at least some knowledge and understanding that no one else in the room has.” Most organizations recognize these as strengths, not weaknesses. When the acceptance of Council decisions was suggested, it was therefore troubling to hear the Mayor’s emphatic reply, “absolutely not”; that decisions must instead be supported.

The respect Council hopes to engender cannot be achieved if members are required to sweep their convictions under the proverbial rug. Must members be required to publicly express support for decisions they believe are wrong, thereby showing themselves dishonest? Said differently, would you want members to be like the young boy who, when asked to sit down, said: “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside”?

The encouragement of open-mindedness; of looking for flaws and ambiguities with a critical eye; and of thinking outside of the box creatively and innovatively was suggested. These appeared headed in the right direction. Yet it appears the undue reticence to affirm diverse perspectives and acknowledge conflicting member views, left uncorrected, will likely not promote greater Council responsiveness to the real world just outside of council chambers.

Council finally appeared to come down on the side of supporting the body even though some members may not support decisions at hand. As you hammer out your final version of protocols, I hope the Council majority will move to emphasize and capture the strength of diverse member perspectives while deemphasizing the desire to support “Group Think.” The latter has not served decision-making bodies well in a free society.

Regarding Next Generation Advisory Committee Proposal

It was explained that staff had drafted the proposal at Council member Schlachter’s suggestion, to achieve greater involvement of young people in local government. Kyle added that Council gets a lot of input from the retired crowd but not from young people.

The target group, 17-34 years, however, may well be missing other more strategically important citizens. A large number of citizens in the 35-to-65 year-old bracket has significant concerns regarding stewardship of their neighborhood community character upon which maintenance of their quality of life, the value of their home investments, and the city’s highly valued natural parkland and community aesthetics depends.

With an ear to the ground, I’ve learned there are many reasons for their lack of greater involvement. These include but are not limited to more pressing work and family priorities and the appearance that Council may not actually want to hear and respond to their concerns.

I hope Council will reconsider how to genuinely engage these citizens who are contributing much to the life of the city’s neighborhoods and their vitality.

Thank you, Don Bruns
District 4