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8 people behind a dais, 2 more at a table in front and to the right.  Several audience members.
City Council - April 9, 2024

I started watching City Council meetings, and later board and commission meetings, more than a decade ago. During that time, I've witnessed many examples of residents who learn about a city plan on the night it's being finalized. The frustrated citizens ask, "Why am I just learning about this?" The Councilors or board or commission members are asking the same question, "Why are you just learning about this? We've been working on it for months!" The frustration on both sides is palpable.

I started writing previews of meeting agenda in an effort to stave off this problem. I try to keep the public informed by telling them "This topic is going to be decided--if it's something you care about, now is the time to weigh in, write a letter, talk to your councilor, make public comment."

That goal has been exceptionally challenging with this City Hall issue. It's been very difficult to identify exactly when a decision point has arrived. Instead of formally voting, and giving city staff a clear mandate, City Council has had a series of "discussions" during study sessions. Each time, using "thumbs up or down" voting, they've encouraged staff to continue their planning activities.

Those activities have become increasingly expensive. In addition to staff time, the City budgeted $800,000 in 2023 and $700,000 in 2024 for these planning activities. (2023-2024 Biennial Budget, p. 195, line 26)

Yesterday's public comments included several citizens who were opposed to constructing a new building without a vote of the citizens. One was in favor. Former Mayor Jan Schenk provided in-person comment (1 hr, 18 minutes), saying he was "offended" by Council and staff for not bringing this issue to a vote.

The new city hall was the second topic in last night's study session. It begins at minute 21 with an 8 minute soliloquy by the Mayor, expressing frustration at the "misinformation and mischaracterization" in public discussions on this topic. She said that the City has been discussing the need for new municipal facilities since "2012, or likely earlier than that."

"Why are you just learning about this? We've been working on it for years!"

Other councilors also opined. They did not discuss whether the 32 hour work week or employees who work at home affected the need for new facilities.

Staff asked if they would like them to bring a formal resolution so they could vote on it. The Mayor declined, saying they were only approving more staff time to publish RFPs. The City Manager pointed out that the engineers, architects, and consultants that they were asking for proposals would prefer to know that the city definitely plans to do this project (before they devoted time to producing proposals).

In the end, they all gave "thumbs up" to the project and COP funding.

Learn more about the City Hall project.