How cost efficient is our City Council in West Linn?
The time spent on meetings, repetition of arguments, re-hashing of old issues without any discernible achievements is worrying. Anyone tuning into the televised meetings must wonder why so many and why so long.
By looking at the timestamp of video and audio recordings on the city website, it is clear that something has changed in the last three years. In 2016, the time spent in meetings (council, special, retreat and work sessions) totaled 86 hours and this included 9 hours on the controversial Sunset School replacement.
Last year, the number went up to 150 hours, a 74 percent increase! What changed?
Councilor Sakelik and Council Cummings were elected to the council at the end of 2016. Since then, they have consistently burdened the council with argumentative and non-productive items like the Assistant City Attorney issue, a time-waster featured in a Tidings editorial (March 7).
This year is also looking like a record one for council meetings. In the first three months alone, the time spent has totaled almost 50 hours. Several of these meetings have been to decide City Goals for 2019.
However, these goals are still not defined. Hopefully they will be by 2020.
What are other consequences of these dysfunctional tendencies?
Stress on staff is one. More staff time is incurred to attend, report and provide backup for these interminable meetings leaving less time available for current city projects.
The City Manager and staff are often subjected to distrust and criticism. Councilor Sakelik wants to get involved in the minute details of city contracts, hardly the job of a City Councilor. Undoubtedly, this will involve more meetings and unnecessary staff time. We do not want to risk losing our experienced staff to other cities due to frustration and exasperation.
Another factor is the escalating cost of our legal services. The City Attorney attends all these meetings at $225 an hour, a rate expected to increase to $350 in the near future.
A further fallout from long multiple meetings is the effect on potential candidates for our city elections. Who can afford to give up their time for these duties?
In terms of a 40-hour working week, last year's 150 hours is equivalent to almost a month of back-to-back meetings. (And this number does not include executive sessions which, because they are confidential without audio or video timestamps, are difficult to track) .
In last November's City Council elections, only two people stood for the privilege of taking on this grueling schedule. They were uncontested. I wonder why.
The Mayor does his best to keep order and discussion at city meetings on course, but unless he has the cooperation of all councilors, it's a losing game.
Councilors Sakelik and Cummings need to curtail their argumentative strategy and work on a more cost effective team approach to city problems.
The city is facing a budget deficit of up to $1.3 million, quite apart from the issues above. If we cannot operate efficiently, all of us in West Linn will feel the effects financially.
Anthony Perry is a citizen of West Linn; he is married to former Council President Brenda Perry.
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