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Governance Manual to guide Bainbridge council protocol

The City Council this week finalized its Governance Manual, a document designed to streamline council policy and guide it through the change of government that Bainbridge voters mandated last May.

The council has worked with interim Deputy Manager Stan McNutt on the manual since he was hired last November.

McNutt has used the manual as a tool to focus protocol in a number of cities in the 46 years he’s worked in city government.

Previously, the council used three different operations documents, which were repealed in preparation for the new document.

McNutt unveiled the document along with Councilor Barry Peters at a Rotary Club meeting Tuesday in front of 100 Islanders excited by the strides made by this council and administration.

McNutt told the audience at the luncheon that the adoption of the manual has done a lot toward building consensus among a City Council that brought in three new members two months ago.

“Every word, every document, every principle has been vetted by the full council as the way to do business in the city,” McNutt said.

One of the more notable features of the manual is its emphasis on interaction with the public. For several years the community and the city have been at odds on issues like the Island Gateway project and Strawberry Plant Park shoreline restoration. Observers of city activities have charged that the city excluded the public on these projects and pushed them through without considering other options.

The manual mandates a front-loading of the public process. It also plans for public forums, town-hall meetings and ward meetings, all of which are designed to get councilors out to talk to their constituents.

“I think it’s a recipe for a new kind of council interaction with the public,” said Councilor Barry Peters.

Some aspects of the manual have already been put in to practice. Council meetings are divided into either study sessions or business meetings. At the study sessions, council has the opportunity to hear presentations and discuss issues without the time crunch of making a decision that night. The expanded public process comes into play here as well. Citizens are able to ask questions of the council and discuss the topics on the agenda, a much greater interaction than was allowed during the three-minute public comment period at the regular meetings.

But through all these changes, the question remains, will they be followed?

“It’s typical for cities to begin ignoring it,” McNutt said. “It takes vigilance to follow the rules.”

McNutt said citizen volunteers on ad-hoc committees need to also look at the manual and make sure things are working as they should.

As for the process of putting the manual together, McNutt graded it as a B+, but he spoke of it more as if the grade should be an incomplete.

“There has to be consistency for a number of years before everyone gets comfortable within the system,” he said.

Councilors shared McNutt’s vision of maintaining the manual as a long-term manner to decide council protocol. Councilor Kirsten Hytopoulos said drafting the manual brought the council together quickly. She hopes the manual will be followed by future incarnations of the council and remain a part of this council’s legacy.

“The process itself was valuable for this council, in addition to creating a document that will last for many future councils as well,” she said.

Bainbridge Governance Manual

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