Thursday, January 6, 2011

Choosing a council president

Next Monday Pensacola embarks on a new era in our city government. The first elected mayor will be sworn in. It’s time to heal any rifts from a vigorously fought campaign, time for our entire community to unite in wishing Mayor Hayward great success in moving Pensacola to take its rightful place as one of the great cities in the Southeast.

But another important step will also take place on Monday--one that is also critical to the success of city government under the new charter. That is the election of the council president. And just as Mayor Hayward will shape the roll of mayor, the new president will have a vital role in determining how city government functions under the new charter.

So what qualities should we look for in a council president?

Diligence and attention to detail. The new president will work with staff to prepare meeting agendas. It’s not sexy, won’t garner applause, but it is an important and time-consuming function of the new council president. The president needs to thoroughly understand the City budget and be grounded in public policy and make sure that something as mundane as a meeting agenda helps accomplish our long-range goals.

A team-builder. The new council will blend new faces with old. While we may represent different constituencies, while we may differ on issues and vigorously debate our points of view, we must do everything possible to avoid a polarized council. The new president will need to be able to set aside his or her personal agenda to help create a team out of diverse viewpoints and talents. The council as a whole must be bigger than any individual member.

A bridge builder. The council president will be the liaison between the council and the mayor and the council and staff. He or she must earn the respect and trust and establish good working relationships with Mayor Hayward as well as with the city staff.

Able to recognize and tap creativity. We have a diverse and talented council. The president should tap the unique skills of the other council members. As committee chairs, council members can play an active role in setting City policy. (It would be a mistake, I believe, to place all of the power in one council president heading the only committee, squandering the depth and breadth of leadership that exists in the council.)

Able to run open, efficient meetings. The president must be respectful and open to citizen input, fair to all members of council, able to maintain discussion that is germane without being heavy handed, and respectful of everyone’s time. A complete understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order is a must.

Committed to making this new charter work. The charter is short. It broadly outlines the structure of our new form government. But there is a lot of gray area. The council president will collaborate closely with the mayor to create a functioning government that is consistent with the spirit of the Charter the citizens ratified and to serve the best long-term interests of Pensacola

Finally, the choice of council president this Monday will embody the council's vision for its role in this government. It is as important as any decision this council will make.

The deliberations of the city council are an important part of representative government. The mayor will act outside of the spotlight, while the council is the public face of decision making and a primary entree for citizen input. It is the open government branch. The council president will set the tone for these deliberations, from setting agendas to running meetings to empowering other council members.

This is an exciting time to be involved in the city government. Each of the members of the government have unique roles. We are no longer supporters or foes of candidates or of the charter, but we are all working together as supporters of Pensacola and Pensacolians. I look forward to working with the council, the mayor, and the citizens to create a government that is effective, efficient, and innovative—putting us on the path of becoming one of the great cities in the Southeast.