Sedona AZ (June 25, 2013) – In a community where art is next to apple pie and cleanliness, the Sedona City Council, in a 4-3 vote, sent all citizen commissions except the legally required Planning and Zoning commission to the bottom of the ocean. Welcome to Davy Jones Locker.
In a city with a nice beach but no ocean, beach goers are now wondering what happened. Everything was fine when the good ship Sedona was christened back in ’88. Art was the glue that held the community together. It has been said that Sedona runs on volunteerism and that’s part of how we’ve managed to keep the ship in smooth waters. Now, the ship that sailed under blue skies, preserving the small town character we have heretofore aspired to maintain, is sailing into troubled waters.
Let’s drop the cutesy metaphors and look at where we are and what we might do before we run aground.
Paul Chevalier, a respected Sedona leader since his arrival in 1999, has a clear grasp of what has happened recently to our commissions. In this 20 minute interview, Paul shares the history of Sedona Citizen Commissions, where we are today, and provides some insights of what course we might take before the good ship Sedona hits the rocks at the next low tide.
Thanks to Paul and interviewer DuVol for this excellent interview. It is a history lesson on how and why the commissions came to be a part of the city’s strategic planning. The interview brought up as many questions as answers. The commissions are volunteer citizens with willingness to use their expertise to develop strategic planning. The council is made up of elected representatives, and they are the voting body that makes decisions for the population who has elected them. They also are responsible for hiring the city manager, who manages the paid city staff who make up the bureaucracy that carries out the day to day work with specific tasks.
So, we have volunteer citizens who comprise the commissions, and along with all the voters, have elected a council. The elected council hires the staff. So what group has the final say so? Does the city manager have final decision making power on what gets done and how? Does the elected council have veto power over the way the staff does things?
Do the commissions have any power at all, except to make recommendations with strategic plans to the council? Does the employed staff have any responsibility to the commissions?
Unpaid work is given little value in our society, except lip service. Employees have responsibilities and rewards, and the freedom to seek other work if their jobs become untenable. Elected officials are intended to represent the population. In this management form of government, is it the city manager who is the ultimate decision maker?
As a longtime volunteer for various causes, I find the willingness of smart, busy people to be on these commissions amazing, a true gift to our city and population. We cannot afford to pay such talent what they are worth in the marketplace. As a business person, I would jump at the chance to have such talent with no overhead cost. Something is missing in this story.
What an informative interview and thoughtful comment! I learned a lot.
I too wonder what real problem disbanding the commissions solves. As Artlover says above, something is missing in this story.
The disbanding of Sedona’s volunteer commissions reveals the extent to which City staff “runs” the City Council and the City. Maintaining a delicate balance between the citizens, the Council and City staff is up to the City Manager and the City Council. When the Council and/or the Manager get lazy, staff makes the decisions. Because the City depends almost entirely upon sales tax and tourist-type revenues, staff and City management (and even the Council) most often give short shrift to input from City residents, only reluctantly giving attention to citizen input. Given that volunteer participation in correction of this condition will not be welcome (Catch-22), we should not look forward to any change.
Well, thank you, Paul, for the historical overview and your thoughts. I totally agree with your viewpoint here.
As a member of the Sustainability commission (who actually planned to retire Jan 2014 when my term was up), I can say that if Sedona wanted to be considered a sustainable city by any measure (important to our desired environmental image) we have a lot to do as a city; we are miserably behind by any measure nationally, but even with other cities in Arizona. In our case the sustainability commission (composed of very knowledgeable residents) was given goals by Council. We worked on them diligently. Our last act was to submit a thorough report on recycling possibilities for the city and suggestions for other areas of energy and water.
However, the ‘unspoken’ here in this dissolving commission act are the real issues:
(1)the cost of open meeting laws (staff time, rules, meeting notice, recording minutes etc) which also slows work down (eliminated with changing to committees for special projects)
(2) Staffs’ “real job” is not working on commission projects (their words) approved by Council.
(3) the fact that everything, even a highly competent commissioner does has to be ‘checked out’ by staff, which takes up even more staff time
(4) I sense there has been a staff revolt/takeover, because many work long hours and further, consider themselves experts on everything (meaning not needing the commissions). Having only been here 8 years I know staff works hard. However, those same long hours have been going on for some time beyond my 8 years. That’s the career path they chose.
However, if the City staff had really wanted commissioners’ opinions for any commission reorganizations they would have asked for this feedback way back in late 2012 when they began the task of thinking about a ‘better way’ assigned by council. Most of us had no idea that this work was going on and were blind-sided 6 weeks ago. All City Council asked for late last year was a way to make commissions function better. How the heck did we get to the place where Council decides that commissions are totally abolished vs. coming up with some streamlining ideas? I know that I am very disillusioned and have no further plans to volunteer my time.
BRAVO Paul! Well done. I just hope that all the Sedona City Council will take the time to listen to Paul’s thoughtful reasoning. It is never too late to reverse course and reestablish those commissions that made a difference and made the city a better place to live.
I believe Paul summarized the need for volunteer input extremely well. I happened to come from a community where committees are a way of life and considered a valuable resource for both staff and council. I chaired the committee on tax abatement for a number of years which brought a number of business headquarters and millions of dollars in tax revenue to the community. The committees were established by council and reported directly to council with a council member responsible for each committee. This proved to be a very efficient system with each council member directly involved in the committee process and the committee members doing the “leg work” to carry out the mission established by council. Committee results/recommendations were sometimes presented during council meetings. I suggest council reconsider its renunciation of the commissions and work towards reestablishing those which can advance the community plan through projects determined and supervised directly by council members.Assuming council wants to move ahead the a commission’s recommendations staff can then complete the project.
Thanks, Paul, for this cogent summary of this issue. As a relative newcomer to Sedona (only 10 years), I very much appreciated the history and interplay among City Council, commissions, (prohibited) standing committees and City staff. In particular, your concerns regarding the replacement source of some strategic planning I find to be very persuasive.
Like many of the other commentators above, I also hope that City Council considers your analysis and, working with staff, reconsiders its last decision.
Well done, Paul.