The Austin Chronicle

Further Consideration

By Katherine Gregor, January 30, 2009, News

Here are some further recommendations for communication improvements; they typify those detailed in the 2003 task force report, as well as recent suggestions from current board members, council members, and city staff. Some date back over a decade but have yet to be enacted.

Council Communication

Why don't they ...?

Define a communication protocol, provided in a manual, that sets forth a standardized process for information flow – who's supposed to do and communicate what and when – among B&C, council offices, city staff, and citizens?

Require that council members interview their nominees, or at least meet them, before making a nomination to council? (A surprising number of board members complained that they've never met their nominating council member.)

Require council members (not just their staffs) to meet quarterly and communicate monthly with each of their board nominees – individually or in operationally related small groups?

Keep a complete history of each B&C, which can be provided to new council members and their new board nominees?

Acknowledge receipt of official letters of recommendation from boards to council members – and establish a protocol for council response?

Establish a standard protocol for when and how board members should contact their nominating council member about a controversial issue heading toward council?

Ask volunteer board and commission members, "What could we do for you?" to make their public service more effective?

Staff Communication

Why don't they ...?

Establish a public protocol for staff and citizens for how to show respect for the time and service of B&C members, as both volunteers and city officials?

Require department directors to meet at least quarterly or biannually with their corresponding city boards – including a required annual presentation of the department's business plan and budget?

Require staff liaisons to complete and distribute minutes from each board meeting within a few days, when they would do the most good, not weeks later?

Define how much autonomy boards have to develop internal policies (e.g., how petitioning citizens or companies must file information for review) and whether city staff are expected to enforce compliance with internal board policies?

Intra-Board Communication

Why don't they ...?

When an issue goes before multiple boards – for example, Design, then Environmental, then Planning – require staff liaisons or board chairs to immediately report a board vote and supporting rationales to the other boards that will review the same issue?

Public Communication

Why don't they ...?

Provide a full-featured city Web page for at least the most active boards, where citizens can access comprehensive information: recent actions and recommendations, mission and role, bylaws and charter, meeting agendas, annual report and work plan, history of major recommendations, letters to council, board-member photos and bios? (Good model:

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