Our View: Decision-making process needs work
Recent action taken by the City Council has caused the community to question how decisions are made
The council needs to re-evaluate its processes and find a way to engage the public from the get-go
Last Tuesday’s six-hour Steamboat Springs City Council meeting was marked by an interesting series of decisions and discussions.
The council completely reversed its vote on an ordinance that would have required residents to bear-proof their trash containers, backtracked on previously approved bus service cuts and put the brakes on a police station project right when it appeared the council was ready to pull the trigger on a site purchase.
And while we questioned some of the decisions, it is not our intention to criticize or dissect specific votes or actions taken by the City Council recently. Instead, we’d like to encourage the council to assess the way it goes about making decisions that impact the residents of Steamboat and improve upon the process.
The fact that the council was open to stepping back and reconsidering one or two of its previous decisions is not a bad thing. The willingness to question a set course of action when new information is revealed shows flexibility and a desire to do what’s right, but on the flip side, flaws in the way an organization makes decisions can delay important projects and stymy forward progress.
To use the police station as an example, it seems to us that the process was largely staff-driven and flawed from the start. The council should have taken three steps back to re-evaluate the project a year and a half ago following fallout from the community outcry that occurred when city staff announced plans to build the station at Rita Valentine Park.
Instead, the project continued full speed ahead with a somewhat secretive site selection process that raised more questions than answers. There was a rush toward a preferred solution without the city staff or council taking the time to engage in a broad-enough discussion that could have provided the public with a true understanding of the options the city was considering and establish a need for the facility.
This type of project planning, which starts with a solution rather than a full evaluation and discussion of the problem, has caused the council to appear wishy-washy and disconnected from the public they were elected to serve.
The bus service cuts are another example of the council not thinking a decision all the way through from beginning to end. Instead of engaging the community in the cost-cutting plan from the beginning, the council now finds itself scrambling to reinstitute lines and find ways to improve wait times in response to a public outcry. And in this case, it may be too late to fix the problems that already have been set in motion.
We think it’s time for the City Council to take a hard look at its decision-making and project-planning processes. They need to put the effort into thoroughly evaluating a problem before charging toward a preferred solution and expecting the community to jump on board automatically.
Steamboat Springs is a highly engaged, educated community, and the council needs to realize that taking the time to involve the public in the planning process and earn buy-in from the start is a vital part of the planning process.
To aggressively move forward with projects, which lately have seemed more staff-driven than council-driven, is ill advised. This strategy wastes time, energy and resources and damages public credibility along the way.
Given the history of questionable decisions going back beyond this group’s tenure, we think it is past time for the council to create and practice a multi-phased, decision-making process that involves identifying an opportunity, generating and selecting alternatives, developing a preferred alternative and then executing the plan. These steps are ones that have been adopted by organizations and businesses worldwide to produce better outcomes in less time, and we think our City Council could benefit from creating a clear process that forces open policy discussions and produces logical decisions.
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Time seemed to stop for Matthew Engle for a few seconds after he heard crunching metal last week while he was in downtown Steamboat Springs.