Council retreat

Denton City Council member Keely Briggs, left, discusses future measures to process requests and constituents concerns with city staff and other council members. Council and staff met Saturday at the Texas Woman’s University Board of Regents Conference Room for their annual daylong retreat session.

Denton City Council and staff members worked to hash out differences and frustrations about the best way to handle requests for information and constituents’ concerns during their daylong retreat session on the Texas Woman’s University campus Saturday.

Staffers from Accenture, a management consultancy firm that facilitated Saturday’s meeting, helped guide the council members and staff to find a new way to effectively handle requests, remove requests that were no longer relevant and start putting together their goals for next year.

Accenture learned through interviews with council and staff that the amount of work they do is collectively leading them down a path toward burnout, a loss of quality staff, unfocused decision making and loss of public trust and support.

While council member Jesse Davis said the analysis summarized their thoughts well, Deb Armintor said she was concerned about the analysis in terms of requests she and Keely Briggs sent to staff.

“I feel that [Briggs] and myself are doing the most to forward, at least according to this as far as emails go, concerns of the public to staff and also asking for staff reports in work sessions,” Armintor said. “I feel like we are being singled out for doing democracy — that’s how I would put it.”

Armintor also said she wanted to find a way to make sending and fulfilling requests more functional.

Data showed council members Armintor and Briggs sent more requests to city staff than other members, with 230 and 345 requests, respectively. Briggs reiterated these emails forwarded to them were concerns and requests for assistance from constituents.

“I’m going to keep sending [requests] because I’m going to keep doing my job,” Briggs said. “I’m not going to sit here and feel bad about [my number of requests].”

In comparison, council members Gerard Hudspeth and Paul Meltzer sent about 150 each in the same time period, and Davis has sent 21, although he only took office in May. John Ryan and Mayor Chris Watts had 26 and six requests, respectively.

Hudpseth said there should be a simplified way of sending requests and that City Manager Todd Hileman should feel empowered to tell council members that certain requests for information may take longer.

Hudspeth’s suggestion for simplifying requests is to have a set template for council members to send to staff.

“I believe the staff will happily create a template or a form that they will make available to the city manager, but to [Hudspeth’s] point, they will not require you to use the form as a means to answer [concerns],” said Steve Struthers, the Accenture consultant who facilitated the session.

With the amount of requests coming in, Accenture staffers brought forward options on how to sort through them, such as adding a work session to each fourth Tuesday meeting to gauge consensus on informal staff requests or work session agenda items.

The proposed request process came after discussion between council and staff detailed three types of requests: service requests, requests for clarification, and policy-related research. Under a proposal to improve the process, the last type of request would be brought to the entire council if staff believe it’s something that would take more than two hours to complete.

Also proposed would be for council members to let staff know what their specific question is or what action is expected, and if the request is time-sensitive.

Council members and staff also took time to review the priority goals they set out for this year at last year’s retreat.

Hileman said the new bond program is “up to speed,” the downtown master plan got off track, the mobility plan is ongoing and the city is not done yet with addressing homelessness.

Accenture staff also helped the council and staff draft priorities for the next year. Council and staffers each had 15 sticky notes to write priorities on, which were then gathered and sorted through.

Once they were sorted through, council members each got eight sticky dots to place next to the items they thought were most important.

“I want more dots,” Armintor said.

“Everybody wants more dots,” Struthers said.

They didn’t finalize which would become next year’s priorities. The topics that got the most feedback via dots from council members included the complete revision of the mobility plan, updating the Sustainable Denton plan and making plans for City Hall West.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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