Nick's Council Connection (10 June 2013)

Council Meeting Date: June 10, 2013CouncilChambers.gif

Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613

It's spring and things are happening all over the city.  Farmer's Markets, new bridges, road repair and city structure discussions are in progress.  It is was an honor this week to welcome William and Judy Ruud to UNI and our community.

- Committee of the Whole (5:40pm-7:00pm, Mayor's Conference Room)-

We'll discuss Blue Zones, Full-time vs. Part-time Mayor, FY14 Cash Management, and Bills & Payroll.  The latter three have formal reports in our council packet.

Full-time vs. Part-time Mayor - and so the discussion continues, and it just took a frightening turn.  The Mayor proposed structural changes that keep the full-time CouncilChambers.gifstructure while transitioning to a City Manager-like government.  The Mayor remains full-time, but duties are more clearly specified, some are not. There's now more confusion about who answers to who, and we've added a layer of management.  In two years, we can assess the need for a full-time mayor.  To this observer, this seems like a convoluted approach to preserve the status quo, with a dimming flicker of hope that our city will one day take on a more efficient, effective form.  

Even more intriguing is this... if you believe the current form works well, then this is a direct contradiction to this belief.  It adds cost and organizational confusion.  But the admission that something needs to be done, might be a confession of sorts, but the proposal is seriously flawed.

However, in the spirit of productive discussion, I have evaluated the proposal and offer a few thoughts:

  • On organization structure: the proposal adds a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO, in lieu of City Manager).  Staff's original recommendation called for redefining the current role of the Administrative Director as City Manager.  This all but maintains the current organization while adding a new level of management and reporting confusion.  
  • On reporting hierarchy: The City Manager should be accountable to mayor AND council (the proposal makes the City Manager/CAO report to Mayor). In my mind, basic supervision should remain with the Mayor, but the City Manager/CAO should be accountable to the elected body as it is in all of Iowa (with the exception of the three full-time mayor hold-outs).
  • On accountability: the proposal specifies many mayoral duties (such as legislative advocacy, visioning, and ceremonial duties among others).  Interestingly, these are all duties you would expect from any mayor, full or part time. Yet, there is no mechanism for accountability beyond the voting booth.  I can assure you, outside of a faint cry from a citizen or council member, the voting public won't have any 3rd party, comprehensive performance evaluation to judge the Mayor's performance against these specified duties.  I'll take a moment to be critical. The financial state of our city is dire.  I assess 90% of the blame on state government mandates relating to a range of issues from arbitration rules to reserve fund restrictions.  Our elected representatives (Mayor and Council included, including yours truly, but I do give it much effort) have not done enough to educate and advocate for change on the state level.  The Mayor, again in my opinion, should be devoting at least 20% of his or her time to legislative priorities.  In politics, perceived reality is the only measure that matters (at least if your goal is political preservation).  In a typical job, you are objectively measured in both macro and micro terms and ultimately held accountable.  Voting citizens see the macro level, but not the micro level.  We should relieve the Mayor of many of these 'accountable' duties and assign them to a staff position where Mayor and Council can level accountability -  the City Manager form enables this.
  • On working time (unspecified in the proposal): the Mayor should devote 100% of his or her working time to city business (which should not include campaigning efforts).  A policy for vacation, sick-time, PTO, etc. should be defined as it is for any other City employee.
  • On mayoral compensation (kept the same): this proposal formalizes the move of most mayoral duties to staff (many of which informally occurred several years ago!!). This should result in a pay reduction for the mayoral position.  Coincidentally, the budget was the main reason for re-exploring the full/part-time mayor issue.

KeepCalm.jpg
So what exactly are we trying to do?  Save money, improve organizational efficiency and efficacy.  This proposal will cost taxpayers $70,000 in savings potential that would have occurred in Staff's original recommendation to move to part-time mayor.  If we add a CAO, then you can expect another $150,000 in salary and benefit costs.  The proposal could cost $220,000 per year!  We won't notice any measurable improvement in the efficiency or efficacy of our operations, it adds organizational complexity and confusion.  If your head isn't spinning, stop reading and seek medical attention.

 

 -Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber)-

In Old Business

Item F3, Ordinance 2795 Modifying Refuse Rates) You spoke, we listened. Council and staff have received great feedback on Refuse Rate changes.  Citizens understand why we need to avoid deficits for added services.  As much as possible, Staff is directed to match fees with costs of providing a service to relieve property taxpayers, to move cost burdens for specific services to those that use them. I made the following recommendations to staff:

- Bulk pick-up is ridiculously low for the amazing service (and risky for worker comp claims) - I proposed $50 per pick-up with a maximum tonnage/volume limit.  The current rate is $5 per pick-up. Yes you heard it, $5 for curbside pick-up with virtually no weight or volume parameters.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true. The old adage is put to the test with this fee structure. 
- Curbside leaf pickup (vacuum service) seems high - I suggest fixed and variable cost analysis to determine if we can lower the price of this curbside pickup service.  If more people use the service, fixed costs are absorbed in more service calls which distributes those costs across more customers, which should lower the cost per service - and the price.
- I've also suggested that customers make calls for service during non-peak seasons.  Rather than the compost truck go hunting for containers, we can optimize the routing when calls for service are made.
- I also support providing additional carts for a nominal price.  The price should be high enough to fully recover the estimated replacement cost of the cart over the predicted lifespan.
We need to make adjustments to the ordinance amendments and restart the hearing process.

In New Business

Item G.1.b) Since I joined council, I have been pushing for a scorecard to measure Council progress on our yearly goals.  smart-goals.jpgRichard McAlister took the suggestion and created an extremely useful management document.  The items deal with specific issues of governance, finance, capital projects, planning, and organizational management. They are described in Specific terms, with Measured outcomes, identify Accountable party, organized by Relevance, and are Time-based (SMART).  It's a real simple tool that gives easily digestible information on a single page.  For Council, I would rather review our priorities than try to assess our condition based on a mountain of staff reports that we receive on a regular basis.  For illustration, the packet contains 318 pages that need to be reviewed by Monday's meeting.  This scorecard, one page of 318, gives me more insight on the state of our council goals than the remaining 317 combined.  One item on the scorecard is the part-time/full-time mayor analysis.  It is marked 75% complete (staff has provided an extremely compelling, unbiased report), but it was tabled by Council. Had we not had this scorecard, the effort, valuable no matter the outcome, may have died just as it did when a petty councilman requested the review in 2011.  It took a financial crisis and a scorecard to bring it back to life.  "Be glad and rejoice," said the inquiring councilman from 2011. 

On the Resolution Calendar

Most Resolutions are routine such as those establishing pay or deleting pay for new, re-classified or terminated employees. One notable termination was that of the City Attorney which will save citizens nearly $120,000/year.

Occasionally (and eagerly) we approve leases for vacated flood-buyout properties.  The "Tenant" is responsible for the care and maintenance of the property for a nominal $1.00 fee over the term of the lease.

The Union Road Recreational Trail contract and bid will be approved allowing construction to ensue.

Nick's Briefs

Service to your City: So you have always wanted to be on a city board or commission, haven't ya?  Well, now is your chance.  A valued member of the Parks and Recreation Commission is stepping down.  This is your chance to step up.  There's a caveat, a candidate would preferably be female to meet gender balance guidelines.  We have very little turnover on our boards and commissions, the current policy implies a lifetime appointment til death or resignation do us part.  That's why I always get excited when a new appointment presents itself.  New perspective and different experience should be encouraged,  this is your moment!  Applications are at the bottom the page on this link.  

Bridges to Somewhere: The 58 Corridor has its safety issues. This highway doesn't mix well with natural movers - pedestrians and bicyclists.  The new Mayor's Bridge will alleviate some of that concern.  On June 3rd, the stylized pedestrian overpass was set in place linking Cedar Falls' largest employment center to residents via the Cedar Valley trail system.

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ruud07135.jpegA Cedar Falls Welcome to the Ruuds: I had the honor to attend a reception for President William Ruud and his spouse Judy.  As time for the event expired, William and Judy warmly greeted me.  Without solicitation, the President and Judy described how the future of the City and University are inherently intertwined.  He knew details of our city that only a multi-year resident would know. So in addition to learning the challenges and opportunities of UNI, he took time to learn about the broader community. I am impressed and look forward to working with this family for years to come.

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