Toward the best leadership

Anyone for a run at council?

The unspoken fear is that otherwise fine candidates for public office might look at some of the worst moments at City Hall and say, “Run for office? Me? Heck no.”

But an ad hoc citizen group looking at “good government” issues hopes to invigorate a leadership present as well as future. The group, made up of former office holders like Norm Wooldridge and lay citizens like Patty Fielding, recently compiled a list of “desirable characteristics for city elected officials,” and asked us to publish their observations:

Characteristics of successful City Council members: Maintains open-minded willingness to modify one’s views an seek compromise, based upon new facts/information and perspectives that emerge as a result of patient discussion. Exhibits willingness to accept council majority votes and move on. Demonstrates capacity to envision and plan ahead for future city needs.

Characteristics that should be common to both the mayor and council members: Whenever any study or project is initiated, recognizes and accepts the importance of establishing (a) clearly defined goals, (b) dates for completing tasks, and (c) checkpoints for measuring progress toward final decisions and implementation of changes. Understands and accepts the difference between policy leadership and management leadership. Agrees that council members establish policy and approve budgets, and the mayor or his/her delegate (city administrator) executes policy, manages projects and initiates budget processes. Exhibits ability to lead combined with willingness to be a team member. Commits to collaborative process and to communicating clearly and objectively with each other and with citizens. Recognizes the importance of regional meetings as a source of new ideas, funding and other resources to promote municipal health.

Ideal characteristics of a successful mayor: Defines problems clearly, distinguishing pseudo from “real” problems. Guides others to good decisions by articulating, for consideration, workable alternative solutions to problems. Exhibits the ability to manage operations of a mid-size organization with 100-150 employees and a multi-million dollar budget. Ideally, this ability would be demonstrated through prior management responsibility for an organization of group with employees and budgets reasonably comparable to that of the city.

Demonstrates ability to recruit and/or retain highly qualified and effective managers, comparable to city administrator and senior city managers, and willingness to delegate tasks and responsibilities to senior manager.

The question of leadership qualities is trenchant as four council seats are up for election this fall, plus three seats each on the fire commission and school board and two park board posts. Such traits likely won’t supplant political leanings and goals as decisive factors for voters; a platform of “plays well with others” will only get you so far with constituencies hoping to see their particular axes ground. At the same time, these criteria offer a useful lens (or mirror) through which we might evaluate the performance of local pols, the better to grow past a local politics too often mired in poor communication, intransigence, or the collective inability to make a decision and move on.

For those interested in running for public office, filing week is fast approaching (June 4-8). A workshop for potential candidates will be 9 a.m. to noon May 5 at the Bainbridge Commons, at which past and present office holders will discuss their experiences.

There are good candidates out there still waiting to be discovered. Perhaps even…you.