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Civil service: the city at work

Monday night's New Richmond City Council Special Session, sometimes referred to as a work session, did not deliver any headline worthy decisions. That is not to say the meeting was not worth holding.

Work sessions, typically the second meeting of the month, have a less formal feel to them. Council members do not sit in their customary seats behind the elevated dais distanced from staff and audience members at the front of the room. Instead they sit at tables facing each other arranged in a "U" shape on the floor side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow, no microphones.

Much of the real council work gets accomplished at these meetings versus the first meeting each month, a more formal affair generally dedicated to consensus building and official voting, policy making. Work sessions are often dominated by prolonged discussions without a concluding vote. There is humor, frequently injected by Alderman Mike Montello, and frequent "side bars" often conducted simultaneously while the main discussion is ongoing. There is some talking over each other, usually good-natured, but there are also a lot of questions and plenty of listening.

Monday night's session was really dedicated to two discussions.

The first, an ethical debate over whether or not to approve a license to serve, really boiled down to whether granting a second chance was the right decision. The council's vote to table any decision accurately reflected their thoughtful debate. In this case, timing was everything. Respect for the law, in this case reflected in all the work done by the judge, the police, probation officer and case worker, outweighed the exemplary work done so far by the applicant. That progress was applauded by the council and respected in their decision to postpone, not deny, their decision until the applicant completes her probation.

The second discussion pertained to the ongoing evaluation of the City's Capital Improvement Plan. Council members have been ranking and prioritizing projects with help from staff, primarily Finance Director Rae Ann Ailts and City Administrator Mike Darrow. As part of that evaluation process, the council is beginning to take in-depth looks at individual projects. Monday night they listened to Police Chief Craig Yehlik make a case for building a new police garage.

There were a lot of details and ultimately no decision one way or another, but what was important was the detailed explanation by Yehlik of how physical, structural capability translates into how well his officers perform on the job. Cold squads steal valuable response time. Hot squads can degrade physical evidence. Equally important were all of the questions and suggestions exchanged between the Chief and council members in a civil productive discussion. The Chief was asked to move forward and explore the design and costs of a new facility as well as ways to modify existing structures.

To see a well-balanced, productive council and intelligent, dedicated staff work together, take time to attend a council meeting. They work for you and you are invited.

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