We have a city council which reflects the diversity of thought that characterizes the city’s population. The requirements of the state Open Government laws dictate that we cannot get together for discussion of city affairs without advertising the meeting, making it open to the public, and having a record made of what is discussed. Just getting to the place where we can talk with each other with trust in our intentions needs more than the very effective goal-setting retreat of last winter.
After Jim O’Connor announced his departure, many of council were reluctant to continue the work begun in the retreat until we had a new permanent manager. It is my feeling that council should not be waiting for the city manager to lead. Even though we are setting goals for the city manager, we also should be leading the process of developing a community -wide vision and direction. Council should be setting up a process by which citizens can participate and argue for their views of city direction.
Once upon a time, the city developed a comprehensive plan. That plan either needs to be wholly updated or scrapped and a new one developed. Charlie Hensley has been a proponent of a strategic plan since his campaign and I support him in that. We need to have a process in place for developing a strategic plan to achieve the design and a process for adjusting the comprehensive plan that isn’t piecemeal.
None of this is to say that I believe council ought not also investigate or evaluate actions of city staff. Oak Ridge is very fortunate to have on staff some of the most talented and dedicated workers anywhere. They report to the city manager who reports to council. Most of the time staff’s work is seamless to the point of invisibility. That said, I would remind those who complain about our efforts to keeps tabs on city programs and actions: council reports to the citizens. We are the ones directly accountable to the citizens for how money is spent and how well city services are performed. Citizens are always welcome to bring ideas, compliments and complaints about city staff and services to their council members.
I spend a lot of time answering questions from people about how, when, where, who, and why. Who does one ask about this? Why is a city crew doing that? How do I find out about the other? I enjoy that part of the job a lot. I get to help people connect with city services and staff experts and I get to learn a lot.
What I don’t spend a lot of time answering are questions about vision. The reason I don’t is that mostly people don’t ask, “What is your vision for Oak Ridge?” In my next message I will talk about what my own vision is in hopes that people will offer us theirs.