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Council sets, prioritizes goals during retreat

Friday, November 10, 2006 by

It was all about goal-setting yesterday at a well-publicized City Council retreat just outside Austin. Council members, however, were more comfortable with talking about goals than they were with setting and prioritizing those same objectives.

It was a low-key day. Facilitators Carol and John Nalbandian led the group through some basics of the complexities of government, noting that there were no right or wrong answers, just a variety of perspectives that require compromise. They asked the group to imagine both where they wanted Austin to be and where they didn’t want it to be in 10 years.

There was some discussion about the retreat setting itself, the Crossings facility in rural Travis County, and the $16,000 it cost to meet there.

“I did not believe that this is the best use of taxpayer dollars,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “Now that we’re here, we’re going to work hard to get a good value for the taxpayers. I do believe that we would have been better off doing this in town and being more focused on policy as opposed to teambuilding stuff.”

Council Member Lee Leffingwell, agreed, saying he wasn’t exactly soaking up the “spa” treatment.

“No, absolutely not,” he said. “A friend asked me yesterday if I was going to get a pedicure while I was out here and I said ‘yes, right after I get my massage.’ But that is absolutely a joke. If anything, this is a very Spartan resort. It’s basically a peace and quiet type of thing. It’s out here in the middle of the Balcones Preserve.”

After some discussion with staff members on a break, it was decided most of the goals fell into four broad areas: a rich social community with diversity and amenities; a city with a vibrant urban fabric that was pedestrian friendly with plenty of good accessible mass transit options; a healthy safe city; and a city that continues to reflect economic development and financial health.

For the most part, these goals fall within the Council’s existing mission statement: Austin should be the most livable city in America.

After an afternoon break, Council members dug into specific two-year goals under those four general areas. That part went fine, but the discussion lost some steam with the Nalbandians asked the group to use colored dots to prioritize the goals.

Each council member was handed 10 dots. More dots would mean higher goals for the group – and a possible way to prioritize city resources — and that’s what worried Council Members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell, who were never big fans of the retreat idea. McCracken wondered aloud where the discussion was leading.

“What if something is not in the Top 10?” McCracken asked, worried that the list could provide a haphazard framework for goals. “What if it only has two dots?”

Leffingwell said he might not put a dot behind an item, but that wouldn’t mean he wouldn’t support an initiative. McCracken tried to explain how many Council members have picked a particular topic, or area of interest, and were leading small group discussions to flesh out goals in those areas that would be brought back to Council.

John Nalbandian noted that there was nothing new or unusual in the approach – plenty of groups that had used the process – and that it could provide guidance.

“Frankly, it’s inconceivable to me that you would want to conduct business without any sense of how you prioritize these items,” he said.

To try to alleviate some concerns, Council members were given five additional dots apiece. Afterwards, McCracken said he worried that Council members were not prepared to make serious long-term priority decisions without some preparation.

For instance, McCracken was as strong supporter of bringing more video game developers to Austin. That’s a key goal of the chamber, but it’s not something others would understand without either discussing it or being part of a group that is familiar with those particular goals.

Here are the items that got at least four “dots” during the prioritization session.

Category 1 -Rich social and cultural community:

5 dots – Waller Creek flood control and park improvements – start it.

Category 2 – Vibrant Urban Fabric:

4 dots – Pull the trigger – decide on Green Water Treatment Plant.

Category 3 – A healthy and safe city:

4 dots – Adopt redevelopment and retrofit mitigation policy for Barton Springs Zone.

4 dots – Approve structural water conservation policy.

Category 4 – Sustainable Economic Development and Financial Health:

4 dots – Put in place bonus for affordable housing and create affordable units for moderate and low income.

5 dots – Permit/encourage affordable housing bonds in TODs. Approve housing guidelines and establish housing oversight committee. Use affordable housing bonds to reduce price of condos throughout the city – more options and choices.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

City holiday today … Most city and federal employees will have the day off in observance of Veterans Day, which actually falls on Saturday. Most state employees do not have today off … Not quite a full victory …Republican Party of Texas Chair Tina Benkiser sent an upbeat email to party supporters yesterday, pointing out that Texas was a bright spot for Republicans in a bleak year nationwide. She said Gov. Rick Perry would likely be "the longest serving governor in the history of Texas" and that Republicans could take heart in the fact that the Texas Senate now has one additional Republican. Democrats, of course, took an additional five seats in the Texas House. That means everyone is watching House Democrats to see who will stick with Speaker Tom Craddick and who will dare to jump ship. Politicos maybe hovered over their Blackberries on this holiday to see what The Quorum Report is saying on this topic ( Meanwhile, Benkiser advised the party faithful: "Today is the first day of our next election." . . . Former aides join forces . . . Two of former Mayor Gus Garcia's aides- Paul Saldaña and Bobbie (Enriquez) Garza-Hernandez- half teamed as president and vice president, respectively, of Adelánte Solutions. Saldaña was previously a consultant with Martin & Salinas Public Affairs and Garza-Hernandez was an adviser to City Council candidate Eliza May this spring . . . Last chance (for a while) at Barton Springs . . . If you plan on taking a chilly dip in Barton Springs, you'd better take advantage of it this weekend. The Parks and Recreation Department Aquatic Division will close the pool on Monday to begin removing debris that has settled on the bottom from previous floods. The project is expected to be completed by Dec. While Barton Springs is closed, Deep Eddy Pool will remain open from 6am to 7:30pm, daily to accommodate swimmers. Swimming will be free at Deep Eddy pool until Barton Springs reopens. . . . City Hall to become art gallery . . . The City of Austin is planning its third annual "People's Gallery" art exhibition starting in February as part of the Cultural Arts Program Exhibition Series. The exhibition, sponsored by the city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office's Cultural Arts Division, will last for a year. By design, Austin City Hall provides a unique venue to display visual art exemplifying the diversity of voices and richness of talents of Austin artists. The art exhibition encourages public dialogue, understanding and enjoyment of visual art by the hundreds of visitors, citizens, students and business people that come to City Hall on a daily basis. The Cultural Arts Division is now seeking 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional, installation and digitally-created artwork by regional visual artists or arts organizations for the 2007 Austin City Hall Exhibition. The deadline to apply is Jan. 5. Starting Dec. 1, entries may be submitted on the new online application system at Artists are invited to attend an informational meeting which will demonstrate and explain the new online application system at 10am, Dec. 2, in Council Chambers. Details about the exhibition and submission instructions are in the Call for Artwork document posted online at: . . .

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