This past Tuesday, we attended our first regular City Council meeting. Interestingly, the Eau Claire City Council separates its public hearings from the regular agenda meetings by having the hearings the night before. Since we were on our way back from South Dakota, we were not able to attend the public hearing meeting. Apparently, it was pretty interesting because the issue of the siting of the new proposed skateboard park was up for discussion. The skaters and the neighborhood association don't agree on everthing, but they were able to come to a consensus about the park, and it was then put on the regular agenda for construction bid approval at Tuesday's meeting. As part of the agenda, we were introduced by the Council President, Kerry Kincaid, and each student had a chance to say a little about their project. To view this portion of the meeting, click on this link: http://vp.telvue.com/preview?id=T01614&video=157301. Our introduction begins at 271.40 on the counter, and ends at 278.09.
Part of the backdrop to Tuesday's meeting, and some of the difficult agenda items, is the passage of Act 10 a few years ago that affected public employees, and changed municipalities from "just cause" employers to "at will" employers. For some local leaders across the state, this is a positive development because it gives local governments more flexibility regarding employee policies. However, several cities, includng the City of Eau Claire, are trying to adopt new employee policies in order to add some additional protections and fairness to processes of employee relations. As the Director of Human Resources for the City answered questions and explained proposed and existing policies, the City Council members wrestled with their policymaking responsibilities. A great example of the "policy-administration" distinction we've discussed in class, and on which the Council-Manager form of government is based. Here are the students' reactions to what they saw and heard. As you'll see, they pull no punches in their frank assessments.
Last night we attended an Eau Claire City Council Meeting. It was truly a beneficial experience as it displayed how a local government goes about its policy-making decisions. The discussion between Councilmembers was intense and thought-provoking. Because the Councilmembers are from a variety of backgrounds, it was interesting to see how many different opinions there were on a seemingly simple issue. I’m upset we missed out on the Public Opinion portion of the meeting that took place the night before, it would have been great to see the discussions from beginning to end. Nonetheless, the meeting provided me with terrific insight and how the community changes that take place around me are initiated… Ben Swegarden.
The city council meeting was a new experience for me. I learned a lot about the separation between the council members and the management. There were times that the city manager would want so badly to say something but back off because he didn't want to cross any boundaries., or maybe delay the meeting longer. I also learned about the system that these meetings follow. I was completely unaware of the fact that they make amendments to each resolution and vote on each amendment before approving the resolution. Each member of the council seemed very opinionated about certain issues, and they had no problem telling the rest of the group their view on that issue. It was interesting to hear each member's opinion and how that opinion related to their personal views as well as the views of the public. Although long, this meeting was very informational and a great learning experience for all of us…. Karen Daniel-Hamberg.
Although the City Council meeting was long, it was very interesting to see how the council members interacted with each other and the individuals bringing up the issues. Watching them discuss the skate park was interesting because you could cut the tension with a knife. Some council members were all for the park and others believed that there was still work to be done. One council woman was upset that the skateboarders were not treated like any other athletes doing other sports. She thought that an amendment proposed was redundant and that it labeled the skateboarders as rebellious. She did not believe that it was necessary for the rules that already apply to be spelled out even further just because they were skateboarders. Another member of the council disagreed and not politely. He, in a few words, basically told her she was wrong and seemed as though he thought her opinion was offbase.
With the passage of Act 10 in Wisconsin, you could see that the council was at a loss on some items they were now responsible for in the area of employee relations. They did not seem to know how to handle policies and referred to management frequently, while still trying to have all control. I also thought council woman Lewis asked interesting questions. She presented a lot of “what if” and "hypothetically speaking" types of questions. I was not quite sure of her point in that. I do not know if she really cared for an answer rather than to prove a point that things do not always go smoothly. For example, when they were discussing paying people for an automatic two hours if they are called in outside of their regular shift, she said where someone lives should not matter on how quickly someone can arrive. She stated that someone who lives 3 minutes away could be out of town and they should not be penalized for not showing up in the allotted time because they did not know they were going to be called in. It just seems to me that she was trying to find flaws within every situation. You could clearly see a division and some type of an alliance between certain council members. It seems as though certain members were always on the same side of an issue and other members were together on another side of an issue…. Brittany Williams.
Tuesday night we attended the city council meeting, which was very interesting to say the least. Last semester I read a book titled Congress: The Electoral Connection by Mayhew and he discussed a lot about Congressmen being single-minded seekers of reelection. He then goes on to discuss how they used certain tactics to get reelected such as credit claiming and position taking. During the city council meeting that’s what I thought about, how they (the council) were like a small congress, but also theatrical at the same time. The council members asked questions they sometimes already knew the answers to, and said certain things so those who were watching at home or in the audience knew they were asking questions or participating in some way. At the beginning of the meeting they were discussing building a skate park. It would have been very interesting to be there the night before to listen to the home owners' association and the skaters speak to the council about the pros and cons of a skate park. For the most I found it to be really interesting the way they interacted with each other whether it be supporting one another or the snide comments. Seeing the interactions between the council and the city manager also helped me to understand the reading material more by being able to see them interact with one another…. Brianna Betts.
This particular city council meeting provided a great opportunity to see the dynamics between the role of elected officials and administrators. City administrators, especially the city manager, is called upon for expertise during the policy making process and other times he strategically interjects his knowledge of issues while council members are debating. Although the topics of this council meeting were unique to the issues the city faces in the state of Wisconsin, the dichotomy of policy and administration is a balancing game in any situation where elected officials and administrators are working with each other. Balance between the two is critical for effective public service… Terrence Williams.
Attending the City Council meeting was very beneficial because sometimes it's difficult to comprehend the material from the textbook; therefore, actually seeing what the book was trying to explain helped put things into a better perspective. One thing our book discusses is the overlap of the council and administration. The council members are supposed to make policy and the administration is supposed to manage and implement the policy. However, council members frequently want to manage and administrators frequently want to make policy. We saw this at the City Council meeting when Dale Peters, head of Human Resources, tried to get the motion for the ordinance amending the City Pay Plan to pass.
I assume Dale Peters was in charge with coming up with these new policies regarding city pay because he has a degree in something that makes him more qualified and experienced than the council members to deal with said issue. Regardless, the administration, Dale Peters, was setting policies in a way, and the Council was trying to administer these policies with some of their questions. However, this didn't seem to be a problem because nobody seemed to overstep their boundaries and push the envelope too much.
Another thing I found interesting was the “show” the council members put on. I didn't notice it at first, but once Dr. Baker mentioned it in class I realized and better understood more of what was happening in the meeting. Dr. Baker told us that the Council meeting is watched faithfully by many of the Eau Claire constituents; therefore, the Council members have to make sure they please the constituents and do various things just to be able to say they did it. For example, I noticed that lots of the Council members asked numerous questions regarding the various motions. Dr. Baker then explained in class that even if the Council member already knew the answer to the question, he/she asked would often ask anyway just so the constituents could see, which makes sense…. Shelby Knapp.