How it's going so far | Guest View

By Neil Tibbott | Mar 08, 2017
Neil Tibbott

Friends and neighbors, whom I haven’t seen for awhile, always want to know how things are going on the City Council. As you might guess, the answer depends on the day they ask. Now that I have a full year of experience on the council, I’d say it’s been hard, but rewarding.

One of the things I Iike about the job is the great people I have the privilege to work with. Our city staff is exceptional, and even my fellow councilmembers, despite our differences, are a great group of people with a common interest to serve the city. I’ll say more about my fellow councilmembers in a minute.

Being a citizen legislator

Like any new job, however, there is usually a steep learning curve. Because I brought four years of experience with the Planning Board with me, I thought I would be adequately prepared.

However, I quickly discovered that Planning Board issues represented only a small slice of what we would talk about at the council level. I had to learn about public safety, essential infrastructures and meet all the department heads for each of those areas. Fortunately, I found it all very interesting.

While I didn’t have direct training for city government, I found that my experience running a business and working with different kinds of organizations helped me keep my head above water. Along the way, I realized that my lack of government experience could be an asset.

I don’t know who coined the term “citizen legislator,” but I’ve come to appreciate the value of looking at, through fresh eyes, the work our city does. I’m certain I asked our budget director, Scott James, some really weird questions in the beginning. But he answered them kindly, and encouraged me to bring him more.

Our city is stronger when we have new councilmembers who have not become professional politicians. We offer suggestions from a citizen’s point of view. I grant that there are skill sets and perspectives that are helpful when creating resolutions and ordinances, but you would be surprised to know how many resources are available to help citizen legislators fulfill their duties.

Several surprises

I found out I was not prepared for the formality of participating in meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order. While I had watched dozens of council meetings in the past and thought I knew what members did, there is no substitute for actually being on the dais and seeking to contribute to the discussion.

Even when I come prepared with questions or want to offer a particular point of view, there are times when other councilmembers ask my question first, or I hear the answer from staff before I ask my question.

One of the first workshops I went to before I took office was regarding the Open Public Meetings Act. At that daylong event, we learned how our official city business must be conducted with the highest regard for transparency. We were cautioned to use email and public discourse wisely.

We learned that we must give public notice if we meet with more than three council members in one place, and so on. Thankfully, most of that information is common sense when it comes to treating others the way you would want to be treated.

Regarding my fellow councilmembers

We each offer various strengths and different reasons for the positions we take. I’ve come to appreciate the value of having seven people who bring their varying opinions to the table.

Sometimes our votes look like we’re in lock step, but if you scratched below the surface you’d find a wide variety of reasons for backing our positions. We are better as a council if we bring strong opinions that can be moderated through interaction with others.

I learned quickly that I could call on my fellow councilmembers for help. Some are strong on legislative procedures, others know the background of a previous decision, and still others bring skills in working with the public. Those are strengths I want to tap into.

People might also be surprised about how lighthearted we can be behind the scenes when we’re done talking over serious business. For example, one of the councilmembers is a huge baseball fan, and another a Packers fan.

One plays blues at a Seattle nightclub, and others are very involved raising their families. Despite our differences on some of the issues we face, I’ve been surprised at how well we support each other personally.

I think we know that we are here to serve the city for a short time for the benefit of the all the citizens who are here now and will be here in the future.

To hear more from Neil Tibbott and his experiences on the council, you are invited to join him and Councilmembers Dave Teitzel and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas at a town hall 6:30 p.m. March 22 at Swedish Edmonds hospital. This is a time for citizens to give their input and ask questions in an informal setting.

 

 

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