After the last few council meetings a lot of people in town are either taking sides, kvetching or scratching their heads over the behavior that’s been alluded to (from in-camera meetings) and shown in public. And if you watch those meetings you’d be tempted to do the same.
I won’t bother trying to rehash old arguments or point a finger of blame. I won’t try to persuade you off your position as to who might be in the right (or wrong). I won’t apologize for anyone’s behaviors.
What I will try to point out is that what we see spilling over into the open public meetings is the residue of things that have happened out of our sight and hearing. So we’re not getting the whole picture. Which means if you’ve made up your mind and taken a side you’re doing so based on incomplete information.
Here’s what I see and think is going on – feel free to discount my opinions.
City Council is a group. It’s made up of individuals who don’t agree on things or see things the same way. From the start it was a divided group: some were from the previous council, some were new and some were itching to ‘fix’ what they saw as a mistake (or worse) of that previous council. (or course I’m referring to the Universal Water Meter program)
This created a tempestuous situation which hasn’t really subsided.
Group Dynamics is a well-studied field. Whole systems have been devised to try and understand how groups function (or not) and help them work out ways to get to functionality without members of the group feeling like they’ve had to give up their ideas and stances.
My late wife had a lot of experience being a group facilitator. She’d learned the True Colors (1, 2) and Personality Dimensions programs to the point of being a trainer.
These systems help people understand that others do not see things as they do. That this doesn’t mean they are being intransigent or obstructive when they don’t agree – it just means they do not see things the same as you. That this difference doesn’t mean one is wrong and the other right – many things don’t have that clarity. A few days of engaging in well managed group workshops conducted by experienced facilitators makes a huge difference in a group’s abilities to function well (or at all).
Whenever she had to work with a group on a project that was going to take 4 weeks or more she’d spend the first week or so doing group dynamics. She did this because her experience showed her that it was helpful in getting the members of the group to understand each other, escape the trap of gut reactions leading to actions leading to group relationship problems. Problems that can become ossified making the group ineffective at best and toxic at worst.
Well no one did that with our council. That’s too bad for all of us. Really. Because it means that not only do big things become points of argument but small things become sources of friction as well.
In the last meeting one councilor complained that the unending clicking of the keys on the laptops of those on either side of her caused her to have to move her seat. Another pointed out that some members’ need to keep detailed notes causes them to have to have some things repeated because their note taking gets in the way of their paying close enough attention. And the council members who are the target of these comments appear to feel these might be tinged with personal animosity.
These are the kind of things that a good group facilitator would find and deal with so that two years on they aren’t still problems. They’re also the kind of things that won’t ever go away if not dealt with sufficiently.
In the last council meeting Councilor Tripp suggested that In-Camera meetings be recorded, by which she meant an audio recording. Other councilors asked why should we do that if minutes are being taken.
It’s clear to me that Tripp’s reasoning is that she doesn’t trust staff to do the job correctly every time and would like the audio recordings as evidence just in case there’s doubt or dispute.
I posed a question to her: If you are going to record meetings why not audio and video? You can hear her response in the meeting recording. I will flesh out my reasoning here.
Minutes are the recording of what went on that was germane to the topic being decided on. Who proposed what. What was said by whom. What was decided. Who voted which way.
What Minutes do not show is every incidental comment or sub-topic or process of clarification. They aren’t supposed to be verbatim recordings or everything.
Evidence is different from Minutes.
Sometimes in the public meeting we know something has gone on behind the scenes. It’s like there’s blood in the water but we can’t see who was doing the cutting, who was cut and why. We have no evidence. And if, as many want, an arbiter / finder of facts were to be brought in to find out if bullying is really going on we would want best evidence, wouldn’t we?
Simply recording the audio would be insufficient to show what is really happening. Very much of human interaction takes place non-verbally. Many of the things that tick people off aren’t heard.
The rolling of eyes, and gestures with hands (like flipping the bird, making the coocoo / crazy motion), sticking out of tongues, and all facial expressions would not appear in any audio-only recordings. The person tasked with deciding whether things are correctly being done or not starts with incomplete information and then has to try and decipher / understand the rest.
I suspect the audio-only recordings would end up being peppered with ‘let the record show that so-and-so expressed a derisive look at the comment’ and such things. Just to get these things on the record.
I would put forward the notion that IF recordings of in-camera meetings were to be done that they use a 360-video camera system that can see and hear everyone. Anything less is open to question and abuse.
What we see going on with council that we don’t like, the emotional side of things, is hanging around from meetings and interactions out of camera, and public, view. They came in with a fight and even if that fight is done they have carried a fight on to some degree or other since. It’s cost us a lot of money already and may in the future.
It’s like dealing with kids. I personally don’t care who was looking at who, bumping whose chair. Do you believe this one over that one about things that you didn’t see happen? Do you? Ask yourself why. Then ask yourself how many of your tax dollars do you want to go to lawyers to salve hurt feelings on council.
Some see the Mayor’s words and actions in the last meeting as a bit heavy handed. A member of the public had to leave the meeting because they spoke out of turn and refused to conform to the rules of the meeting. The Mayor warned a councilor when he felt her words strayed into areas of legality.
I would point out that the rules of the meeting prevent the public in the gallery from participating in the meeting until the assigned Questions from the public and media portion. To keep the meeting from being hijacked by angry members of the public is part of the Mayor’s job.
And I’d rather see the Mayor caution a council member before it gets to something we’ll have to pay lawyers to resolve. Some might think that a councilor should be able to say anything they want to but that is not the way it works. I’ve had enough of expensive legal wrangling and I’d hope others have as well. (of course if you don’t live or pay taxes in the city you might not have that compunction)
So I don’t really have a suggestion so much as a plea for council to get its act together and stop the bickering before it heads off on expensive jaunts to Victoria or court once again. I worry this is futile because it looks like there are some who just won’t give up the yen to punish some on council (and by proxy all of us taxpayers).
And for those who know my role as recorder / purveyor of council meetings and suspect I might have some commercial interest in bringing all this up let me be perfectly clear on this point: I receive NO MONEY from the City of Grand Forks for what I do. None. Nada. Zilch. I would not want to be in the position of recorder OR keeper of recordings of in-camera meetings Nor would I want to be involved in selling, installing or maintaining any systems to do this. I don’t want the job or the headaches and I certainly don’t need the suspicious people hanging more conspiracies around my neck.