Council Corner: Keys to a highly functional City Council

If you haven't cast your ballot yet, don't forget to take advantage of your opportunity to help shape the future of Ashland's political discourse. Having served as an elected volunteer for the past 14 years (and I am looking forward to four more), many people have asked my opinion about the local mayoral and City Council races.

Before you fill in the oval next to the name of a local candidate, be sure to read the Voters Pamphlet and consider three keys to a highly functional and productive City Council:

Key No. 1: Does the candidate have a clue about how local government works?

There's a learning curve to serving on the City Council, but the curve is less steep when the individual possesses a basic understanding of parliamentary procedure and fiscal structure. Prior service on a city commission or committee provides valuable background experience and insight into governmental processes.

The city of Ashland has 261 employees and is a $112 million operation. The role of the mayor and council is to set policy, not to micro-manage operations. There is nothing worse for organizational culture than having a renegade mayor or councilor meddling in day-to-day matters. And good luck to us in attracting the best and brightest municipal administrators and department heads to Ashland if we have those types of elected officials.

Key No. 2: Does the candidate have the ability to work effectively in a small-group setting?

The Ashland City Council comprises only seven people, including the mayor. These folks are elected with the expectation that everyone will work collaboratively and productively to address issues and opportunities facing the community. However, the bottom line is this small group won't function efficiently when it contains domineering personalities or uncompromising extremists.

Candidate statements in the voters pamphlet contain clues as to how candidates are wired and how they impart what's important to them. Be wary of those who rant or have singular focus — those are almost always red flags.

Additionally, incumbents have track records for voters to analyze through the city's robust web archives.

For the sake of illustration, a mayoral candidate who has been the lone opposition vote 53 times since 2013 as a member of the City Council recently wrote that only she listens to citizens and that the other councilors are guilty of "group think" (whatever that means).

I respectfully disagree.

The most effective city councilors and mayors are ones who work to build consensus. Willingness to compromise based on objective analysis of facts and making reasonable, well-reasoned conclusions in the best and broader interests of the city is a hallmark of good governance — unlike what we see in Congress.

Key No. 3: Can the candidate count to four?

Be wary of candidates promising sweeping changes if they are elected. Can the candidate convince a total of four councilors to go along with his or her ideas and initiatives? In other words, does the person have the ability to outline credible, cogent and compelling argumentation necessary to be an influential policymaker?

Finger-pointing, sarcasm and pandering are not effective strategies. After all, it's hard to get others to follow your lead when you've routinely alienated them. Conversely, credibility is gained by putting forth respectful rationale and having the grace to accept a majority decision. Really good leaders use finesse to achieve positive outcomes.

Ashland's mayor doesn't vote unless there is a tie among city councilors. Consequently, the mayor's level of influence hinges on his or her ability to work collaboratively with the city council. For our city government to work smoothly, its mayor needs to be a diplomat who can navigate a wide range of personalities and bridge divides.

Ultimately, Ashland voters thoroughly vet their local candidates, and odds are we will continue to have a highly productive and cooperative group of policymakers. I am honored to be one of them, and thank you for this wonderful opportunity to serve the community!

— Rich Rosenthal is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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