Survey reveals problems, unnamed

While much has been done to improve the operations of city government in the last six years, city employees have an array of new concerns about leadership, trust, respect, public perception and credibility, according to a consultant’s preliminary report.

Wanting to hear more, the Bainbridge Island City Council will authorize consultant Sandra Davis to interview employees and elected officials and help develop a work plan to address those issues.

“While the concerns involve many of the same areas that we saw in 1997, things seem a lot more pointed now,” Davis told the council at a special meeting Thursday.

Davis said her initial work turned up a number of specific issues that ought to be discussed in executive session, with the city administrator and city attorney present.

The council agreed to hold such a session prior to its regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 26.

Davis undertook a management study in 1997, which some council members wanted to use as a starting point in dealing with overall city management issues. They directed her to update it.

Davis first asked city employees, the mayor and council to list “hot topics,” that is, areas they thought deserved further discussion.

Of the 129 responses, Davis said, 61 percent were new issues since 1997. And 72 percent of the respondents wanted to be interviewed, prompting her to recommend interviews over the less-expensive alternative of a written survey.

“Half a dozen said they would be willing to talk to me, but they wouldn’t be willing to put anything in writing,” Davis said.

The question on everyone’s mind, Davis said, is who is at fault. Her answer – everyone and no one.

“You are all in this together – the mayor, the council, the city administrator and the department directors,” she said. “There is a role for everyone in what has been going on, and in taking care of things in the future.”

An early priority, Davis said, is for the mayor and council to come to agreement on the issues they want to address.

Davis said the mayor and council should have a retreat where they agree on “ground rules” for how they would work together, and a second retreat with department directors to continue the process.

Council member Deborah Vann said the focus on team-building and employee perceptions miss the point of her concern for improving the level of city services.

“When I ran for council, I did so because several departments have serious problems,” Vann said. “There are concerns we’re not dealing with that didn’t just start in the last year. I’ve never seen the goal of what government is supposed to do as getting along.”

While council members want to involve the public in the effort, they didn’t agree on how and when.

“We need to give the public a chance to say what they want out of city hall,” said Michael Pollock. “For example, we should ask them what would be their vision of a planning department.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said that before asking open-ended questions, the city should let citizens know what the mayor and council are doing to address and improve city operations.

“Let’s tell them first what is good about City Hall, then ask for their input,” she said.

Kordonowy and the council agreed to send some form of islandwide communication about their plan – in part, some council members said, to counter what they believe to be a distorted view of the issues conveyed by the media, specifically by the Review newspaper.

“People are getting one-sided presentations, where the issues are not developed,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said, “and they might not have the information we want them to have.

“If we’re unhappy with the perception, we need to give people something else.”

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