Friday, January 16, 2009

The Morning News' Skip Descant reports final meeting of Mayor Lioneld Jordan's transition team

Please click on imageS to ENLARGE view of Lioneld Jordan and some members of his transition team on January 16, 2009.

The Morning News
Transition Team Reports Hint At Jordan's Philosophy

By Skip Descant
FAYETTEVILLE -- Through broad-reaching plans to reach out to residents for their participation in city government, or lining up a diverse collaboration of economic and cultural interests, to budgetary spending that stays in line with nearly flat revenue, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan's Transition Team offered thoughtful proposals consistent with "the culture of the Jordan administration."
"I've been fortunate to be in a room full of geniuses," Jordan told the team Friday evening during the final meeting, where sub-groups presented synopsis of what they had learned during more than a month of research, interviews and strategy building.
The economic development team urged Jordan to begin meeting with key stakeholders at the local and state levels to get a closer understanding of concern not just for Northwest Arkansas, but what economic development wheels are spinning at the state level.
The team also wants Jordan to take a look at the "appreciative inquiry" philosophy when putting together his economic summit in the coming weeks. The idea, said Cathy Foraker, a team member who has worked with this model, is to use a facilitator to bring diverse groups together. And then establish what they can all do well by working together.
"If you encompass all these diverse groups, you tend to get a very positive outcome," Foraker said after the meeting. The sticking point could be the use of the word "facilitator." Jordan and his supporters have been sharply critical of former Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody's use of what they termed "outside consultants." The most recent example is the contract the city went into with Eva Klein and Associates, an economic development consulting firm in Virginia.
The transition team was quick to distinguish between "outside consultant" and facilitator. Namely, that a facilitator is cheaper.
"How about free," Jordan offered, mostly in jest.
"I think we'll want to evaluate the cost-side before we go forward with that option," piped in Don Marr, Jordan's newly named chief of staff, and head of the transition team.
"What you want is a trained facilitator in this process, I think that's the key," Foraker said.
But nearly all the recommendations put forward seemed to have the mayor's attention and approval.
After listening to scores of residents, the communication sub-group outlined quick-fix ideas such as putting phone numbers and e-mail addresses on the city's Web site. And in a sense, making the electronic face of City Hall more user-friendly.
"So the idea is that the (city) staff are gatekeepers, rather than problem solvers," Walt Eilers told the transition team. "And that's not our idea of open government."
In a nutshell, the Web site needs a modern overhaul, said transition team member Michele Halsell, where it becomes a portal for interacting with City Hall, as well as being a marketing tool.
The city budget sub-group warned about a softening economy and growth that may not reach the city's conservative estimate of 2 percent. Because of the downturn, the city budget may need to be scaled back, even mid-year.
"We need to be thinking before we reach that point," transition team member Suzanne Clark told the new mayor, who was attentive and nodding in agreement.
This "worse case scenario" could mean scaling back on capital improvement projects or even salary reductions and reductions in force. The team was careful to point out they that they were presenting options, much of which edged into policy discussions that would need to be conducted by the mayor and full council.
Many of the recommendations presented by the transition team will likely make their way into Jordan's administration throughout the next four years -- some before others. Regardless, the idea of soliciting input, will likely remain a key foundation of Jordan's thought process before moving forward.
"You learn -- as I said during the campaign -- it's not an 'I' government," Jordan remarked at the end of the meeting. "It's an 'us' government. It's all of us coming together to move Fayetteville forward."

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