Lead more, meet less
September 22, 2011
Your article on Aspen City Council’s protracted meetings running into late nights highlighted the city’s dedicated but weak leadership (“Late meetings still an issue for Aspen City Council,” Sept. 19, 2011, The Aspen Times).
Council’s unworkable proposals were to prepare more, talk less and require the public to limit their comments – attempting to do more in less time. The appropriate strategic solution escapes them – to undertake only the policy-level work our charter contemplates and require that the staff and volunteer boards bring forward fully vetted recommendations.
City Council absorbs almost every topic starting anew, seemingly ignoring the considerable work of the boards or the staff, who are rarely in the room when their topic is before council. We never see City Manager Barwick publicly presenting well-researched, solid recommendations to the council as good CEOs insist on doing. The council prefers a free-for-all approach on every topic, guaranteeing long hours and frustrated public, staff and boards.
The best-run organizations, whether cities, nonprofits, businesses, schools or hospitals, are directed by strategically oriented boards focused on policy, financial health and assuring that their staff and other committees’ work is consistent with the organization’s goals. Strong CEOs and staff managers ensure that only well-founded recommendations reach the board for consideration, avoiding the need for a new start on every topic.
Consider the board leadership of successful complex organizations with best practices, and contrast them with the city of Aspen. The solution is not in Mick’s proposal to pay the council more for their long hours creating quasi-full-time jobs and extend mayoral term limits. The answer is in elevating the work to the appropriate policy and strategic level, and honoring the work of well-directed volunteer boards and staff. Far more complex cities than Aspen are well managed without the need for full-time mayors or council members in addition to a large staff.
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It’s doubtful that the current leadership has either the desire or skill set to elevate their focus and manage the city resources in this manner. Extending term limits could only make matters worse.