Council resolves to strengthen rapport with community

DEL MAR — In an effort to strengthen communications between City Council, citizen advisory committees and residents, two council members presented a plan at the Aug. 8 meeting that would have created a community outreach subcommittee.
The proposal called for the addition of three “extra tools” to improve transparency that Mayor Don Mosier and Councilmen Carl Hilliard and Mark Filanc said needed further refinement before any action could be taken.
During the council goal-setting workshop earlier this year, Terry Sinnott and Lee Haydu were tasked with finding ways “to move forward another increment in our efforts to be open and strong in our communication abilities with the community,” Sinnott said.
One suggestion was to increase the number of
community conversations. Sinnott said the city has been using these types of informal meetings successfully, but they are limited.
“Not all neighborhoods are covered and the council is timing these meetings based on a particular need or particular subject,” he said. “There’s a limited opportunity to hear what is on the minds of the residents because we have a topic specific.”
The recommendation was to increase the community conversations to nine per year so one could be held in each area of the city annually. There would be one every month except in July, August and December.
Two council members and perhaps a staff member would attend about three or four meetings annually. A volunteer support committee would plan, schedule and promote the meetings. The host would provide refreshments and locations. Staff would prepare any needed handouts or visuals.
“The primary purpose is to let residents ask questions and provide input to the council members and for us to share information with what’s going on,” Sinnott said. “It’s more of a two-way exchange.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Hilliard said. “But I think you need … a hook. In order to get the people to come you need to have an issue that’s important to them.”
Mosier agreed. “Community conversations need to be issue-driven,” he said. “I think having nine regional meetings without a driving issue will spend a lot of council time for very little return.
“Less frequent meetings with a topic focus could be very productive,” Mosier said. “You can throw parties but that doesn’t mean you’ll get anybody to come.”
Mosier also said the city should organize the meetings, not volunteers.
Sinnott and Haydu also recommended council liaisons outline a one-page work plan based on city priorities for each advisory committee.
Currently the committees advise council on solutions to existing problems and identify and analyze new issues.
Haydu said some volunteers have complained that committee work is not as focused as they would like, council hasn’t provided consistent guidance, there is a lack of direction and council follow-up on recommendations isn’t apparent.
“Volunteers have resigned, expressing frustration from time invested without achieving meaningful results,” Haydu said. “It has been difficult to recruit volunteers for some of these committees.”
The proposed work plan, which would be reviewed and approved by council members during the budget workshops, should include the committee’s purpose, scope, assignments and a schedule.
This would provide positive guidance and establish joint expectations by helping the committees focus and prioritize their efforts. It would also not preclude the groups from working on other topics, Haydu said.
“We do need to reflect on the committees and the charters to make sure that everybody understands what they’re supposed to be doing,” Filanc said.
“The council liaisons should accept responsibility for making a work plan for each committee,” Mosier said. “If that’s not clear it’s their fault.”
“The obligation of the liaisons has always been to direct and control the committees and to help them define their mission, and when there has been no need for their services, to suggest that they not meet for a couple of months until something comes up,” Hilliard said.
“It has always been very helpful for the committees to report to the council twice a year,” he said. “That’s worked pretty well except it isn’t working at all. I’m not sure exactly why that change has occurred but I think we should go back to it.”
Finally, Sinnott and Haydu suggested using Web-based polling.
The city has been progressive in its efforts to share and post information using the website and e-mail.
“The problem is the communication is one way,” Sinnott said. “It does not seek opinions or views from the public in a formal way.
“Polling could address topics that would benefit the council and staff,” he said, adding that it could encourage people to get involved, although it wouldn’t be a substitute for formal voting.
“I have real concerns about polling,” Mosier said, because it’s not a science.
“It’s a political tool,” he said. “You can write the questions to get an answer you want. Writing the questions and interpreting the answers requires real experts. And if you do it in a sort of amateurish way you get misleading information.
“If you don’t do it well it’s not worth doing at all and I don’t think the city can afford to do it well,” Mosier said. “I feel really quite strongly that the kind of polling that we could do would lead us to make decisions based on erroneous interpretations.”
Resident Bill Michalsky said he also has issues with Web-based polling. “That doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling,” he said. “The Web-based polling I’ve seen today is not very accurate.
“And it’s going to be expensive,” Michalsky said. “We poll ourselves to death in this country right now and I wonder how well it serves us.”
Michalsky also agreed that advisory committee members should report to council annually. “That probably isn’t happening frequently enough anymore,” he said.
Sinnott and Haydu plan to refine the proposal and present it at a meeting later this year.

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