Fort Collins City Council fails through obfuscation and delay

Overall our City government performs very well, as evidenced by our many awards. However, there are... areas of opportunity. One such area is communication and accountability between council and staff. Council is supposed to give staff clear direction on a topic. Staff is supposed to follow that direction. Unfortunately the process frequently breaks down. This has happened recently with our campaign for the City to set a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and with our "rent your roof" campaign for the utility to rent roofs/parking lots for solar panels. 

Obfuscate - (verb) render unclear, obscure, or unintelligible

Regarding "Rent your Roof", council gave very confusing and weak direction to staff. One council-member timidly asked for a feasibility study, one asked for a scoping study, and the Mayor confused everything by asked for a study of all distributed energy models.  There was no consensus of what council was asking. The City Manager said that the direction was clear but gave no confirmation of what that direction was. To no surprise, the staff action plan was vague and mostly off topic. Council didn't correct staff, probably because they didn't know what it was they had asked staff to do. 

Delay - (verb) make something late or slow

This topic was assigned to a January work-session, then delayed to February, then delayed until May. Finally, after 7 months, staff presented the results of their work to council. This presentation would not have passed my undergrad classes at CSU back in the '90s. It was incomplete, inaccurate, and off topic. I know it was inaccurate because I pointed it out and staff made a correction. But council didn't understand what they were looking at because after all that delay we were back to our old friend, obfuscation. The result? More delay! Council gave staff another two years to do more of whatever it is they did and there is no expectation of concrete results. Staff could come back to council in two years with the same thing.

In the case of 100% renewable electricity by 2030 the direction was a little more clear, "Study the feasibility of achieving the goal". Staff delayed by waiting for a "Net Zero Carbon Study" from PRPA (our power provider). In this case they obfuscated by hiding their work behind the PRPA study and mixing it in with a Climate Action Plan update. No to worry, council wasn't upset. They simply asked staff to come up with something in a month's time. So staff got to work. They presented a set of obfuscated questions and topics to two citizen boards and spent the majority of time talking about the definition of "renewable electricity". Their report to council was due last week and it appears that they will ask for council for a... delay!

So what the hell are we gonna do about this? Well after 12 years of being on the citizen side of the podium, I've had enough! I've decided to run for City Council District 6. I'm running because I believe that I can help fix the process problems that are limiting the City's progress on a range of important issues facing our community. 

To deal with the obfuscate and delay problem I will require the City Manager to recite council direction when given. This will allow council to clarify any miscommunications right from the start. Next, the follow-up memo from staff should be signed off on by all council-members. Delays happen, but need stronger justification. When the topic does come up for discussion the original direction from council will be on the first page. Council can ask, "How does your work address our original concern?" These steps should provide clarity and accountability for staff and for council.

This problem is one symptom of a root problem of council not having the time and resources to do the best job that can be done. Right now council members are paid for about 7 hours of work per week (less than $10k/yr). Many people familiar with the council role say that to do the best job possible requires 40 hours per week. To address this root problem CforSE is advocating to make city council a full-time position paid at Area Median Income with reporting requirements so that citizens can see that their elected (and paid) officials are doing their job.

You can help in a few ways. From August to November we will be circulating a petition to get "Full-Time City Council" on the April ballot. We will need about 8,000 signatures. We would love to have your help gathering signatures, fundraising, or just signing the petition and spreading the word!

Thank you again!