First, boards, commissions, and councils that are willing to deal with big issues will have to confront conflicting political values. These values include representation, efficiency, social equity, and individual rights. Choices among values are not choices between right and wrong, and councils searching for “correct” answers to policy issues are bound to become frustrated. Second, councilors must confront the difficult values work they are responsible for in the absence of hierarchy—the mayor is not the boss. Most people have never had a job where no one was in charge. The third obstacle is the difference in perspective between council and staff—differences that are often difficult to understand because while council and staff use the same words, they speak a different language.
We help and guide boards, commissions, councils, and their staff using tools that are intended to enable a willing council to deal with difficult issues by building council capacity. An important piece of that capacity is an effective partnership with staff. The tools we use to build good governance include orienting new elected officials, retreats and goal setting, regular one-on-one meetings with staff leadership, appropriate access to department heads, and documented business practices.