DeKalb city council’s planning meeting was actually pretty great, because morality


As yesterday’s post made clear, I’ve not been impressed with DeKalb city council strategic planning sessions for several years. Here’s a portion of my description of this dispiriting, dreadful process:

They place the tables in an enclosed rectangle so the audience is facing people’s backs, and between this unfortunate positioning and their failure to use microphones, what you hear is dependent on the projection skills of each individual. Meanwhile, the audience has to wait an average of four hours for a chance to speak to its representatives, after all the decisions have been made.

It’s sketchy. Unacceptable. A 100% shut-out in every meaningful way.

But last evening wasn’t anything like that. It was actually pretty great. This was accomplished partly by the addition of good microphones, but mostly by the subtraction of city staff from the equation. Gone was the incessant noise of half a dozen discount Machiavellis. Only mayor, council members, and a facilitator participated. They set themselves a bunch of goals for the next 12-15 months, and in my opinion they really nailed a lot of it, especially in critical areas like operations and budget/finance.

Because I didn’t observe the entire process (I left for a while to see what the library was up to) I don’t know which of these goals made the final cut, so I won’t try to present the details myself.

But I will share a big-picture impression of the exercise.

One of the goals read, “Full-time city clerk.” As many readers know, the city manager and city attorney ground that office to dust under their heels, and whenever necessary they work hard to keep it that way. Yet there it was, a proposal that not only represents something important to voting citizens but is also likely to piss off the top bureaucrats just by existing.

Under the circumstances, this seemed almost revolutionary. So I looked around some more, and I found other surprises among the goals, and finally it struck me that I was looking at a thread of morality running through the whole enterprise. Public morality, you know? Like a true sense of public service, which is based on respect. As opposed to public immorality, which is based on contempt.

I want a city government that’s moral. In the day-to-day conduct of city business, DeKalb’s is not. Does council want to bridge the morality gap? If so, the vote to keep the current city manager was a mistake. But there must be other ways to bridge that gap, and we maybe caught a glimpse of one last night.