Best Practices Meeting of November 12: Hammering Out the Recommendations

Here are the preliminary minutes of the Best Practices Meeting of November 12. Members debated which recommendations to put forward to the City Council. Accompanying the minutes are pictures of the whiteboard used at the meeting (left and right halves with overlap). The image is also available at higher resolution as a PDF.

We will make a video of this meeting available within a day or two.

The next meeting of the committee will take place on November 19, 6:00pm, J.F.K. Middle School, Classroom 103
100 Bridge Road in Florence. The public is encouraged to attend.


The Ad Hoc Committee on Municipal Decision Making of November 12, 2008

The meeting began at 6 PM in the Hearing Room at City Hall. Present were committee members Lisa DePiano, Alex Ghiselin, Wendy Foxmyn, David Narkewicz, Michael Bardsley and Bob Reckman. Jesus Levya, Ken Mitchell and Adam Cohen were present and participated actively. Adam taped the meeting. Jim Palermo was not able to attend.

We agreed that we would follow Lisa’s agenda and save time at the end to address several other topics Bob was concerned about. David agreed to be time keeper and Bob would keep the minutes.

We approved the minutes of our meeting of Nov. 5.

We also approved the overall outline of the draft report that Wendy and David created. We approved it in principle but noted that we might have to have another meeting to approve the executive summary.

We discussed how we would agree on our recommendations. We agreed that we would give Jim every opportunity to weigh in but would proceed with our process in order to meet our schedule. Jim will be at our next meeting.

We agreed to present our recommendations one at a time. Wendy wrote them on a large whiteboad in the room and Adam Cohen agreed to take a photograph when we were done that would be our record. He sent the photo later that evening.

David proposed that we develop a standard protocol for the conduct of public meetings that address what we have learned. Its concerns include regularizing agendas, public outreach and rules for public participation while recognizing the differences in needs of the specific bodies.

Alex suggested that the City’s budget process should allow for more citizen understanding of the numbers and that the detailed information should be available electronically.

Wendy suggested that more public education in general should be encouraged. City School is one example of things that could be done. The Neighborhood, Business and conservation oriented organizations could be useful in this effort.

Lisa suggested that we expand forms of city/public communication by using novel approaches.

Bob suggested that the City needs a “great website” and that different departments should be encouraged to participate regularly. It should include a complete calendar and a way for people to sign up for regular e-mail.

Michael suggested taking a look at the City’s process for appointments of various sorts. The goal is to make it more transparent and creative.

Wendy suggested that the City Council could pass a resolution endorsing the overall idea of improving the City’s practices.

David read Jim’s suggestion that early identification of stakeholders i
s a best practice. All city bodies should routinely ask themselves what sort of public input is a desirable and necessary component of many decisions.

Lisa endorsed Michael’s suggestion that the CAC be re-established. It might be adaptable to be related to Best Practices.

Someone suggested the idea of regular training for all new City officials as a matter of course.

Wendy suggested that multiple appointments and term limits be looked at.

Michael suggested establishing a charter review commission.

David suggested the creation of a “Guide to Northampton” in a variety of media.

Bob pointed out the critical role of NCTV.

Alex suggested that some more permanent “Best Practices” body be established.

Alex and David agreed that we would need a central staff person to lead the way on this. Their responsibility would be to be sure that information is available to the public and perhaps to serve as an ombudsman role.

Wendy suggested that the City do a better job of having open and consistent policies for the use of City owned meeting spaces.

Michael and David suggested that the City Council review its own rules and modify them in light of what we have learned about best practices. This would include the precedents of other cities.

Lisa emphasized the need for better communication among City departments. Very often people do not know what other people or departments do.

Michael emphasized the need to encourage tolerance in our community and go an extra mile to include all citizens.

Alex argued that Council often need their own independent legal resources. David suggested that should extend to other policy questions as well. Wendy argued that the Council needs resources of its own.

Wendy suggested tapping the education and skills of our citizens to work on some of the technical issues.

Wendy suggested the formal adoption of standards of ethical behavior.

Michael suggested that we encourage an outside professional review of the Planning Department, similar to the reviews of the DPW and the Fire Department.

Wendy suggested the formal adoption of standards of ethical behavior.

We took a 10 minute recess at 7:40 PM.

When we reconvened, we agreed that we would go through the list and try to select among, combine or elaborate all the items. Wendy did this on the whiteboard. We also agreed that we would each take a few areas to draft proposed language for the draft recommendations.

We agreed that a standard protocol for meetings, public involvement and decision making should be developed for use in all parts of the City government. (Michael will draft this language.)

We agreed that the City’s budget process should be more open. (Alex will draft this.)

We agreed that public education should be encouraged in wide range of novel ways. (Alex will draft this.)

We agreed that better communication between the public and the city should be encouraged. A great website is one key component. It needs to allow for citizen response. A public information officer would be useful. NCTV is critical for this. Lisa will draft this.

We agreed that the City should review the appointment process for committees. We agreed that the city should provide training to all new City officials and do its best to be diverse. (Michael will do this.)

We agreed that the City could have a mission or vision statement including its commitment to best practices. The City Council could pass a resolution in support of best practices. We could propose a specific resolution that could be adopted by the Council. (Wendy will draft this.)

We agreed that awareness of the importance of early and complete communication with citizens and stakeholders should be encouraged. (David will draft this.)

We agreed that Best Practices needs some continuing formal body to help the City move forward in improving its practices. (Wendy will draft this.)

We agreed that the city should provide training to all new City officials and do its best to be diverse. (Lisa will draft this.)

We agreed that the City Charter might be in need of review. (Michael will draft this.)

We were very short of time and did not complete our agenda. There was a brief discussion of how extensive our recommendations should be. We agreed that we would take the remaining issues up at our meeting on Nov. 19 in room 103 at JFK Middle School at 6 PM.

Wendy will not be at our next meeting. Lisa will be in California from late November until early January.

The meeting adjourned at 9:05 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Bob Reckman

See also:

Press Release: Best Practices Committee Begins Final Report
“We are inviting
Northampton residents, business owners, and others who interact with
city government to inform us of your thoughts about the city’s
decision-making practices and urge people to contact us as soon as
possible, with comments for the draft final report”, said Lisa DePiano,
Committee Co-Chair.

Web Home of Ad Hoc Committee on Best Practices in Northampton Decision-Making

Best Practices Meeting Minutes

Best Practices: Pictures and Video from the May 13 Public Forum