What’s that trope about laws and sausages? The punchline is that you should never watch either one being made.
And, to be fair, the city of Corvallis strategic operational plan (SOP) is not a law, per se. Instead, it's a document meant to guide city planning and work.
That said, Thursday’s City Council work session at the Madison Avenue Meeting Room definitely was a sausage festival.
Councilors met for 147 minutes but did not finish reviewing the draft update of the plan. The discussion will continue at the Feb. 7 work session, but it’s not clear if the council will be able to meet its deadline of being able to finalize the project at its Feb. 19 regular meeting. And city staff is antsy to get the plan in the books because of its effect on building the budget for the next fiscal year.
“We don’t see the budget until April, but staff is working madly on it right now,” said Mayor Biff Traber.
“We have spent a lot of time at the detail level,” said Mark Shepard, the city manager. Shepard, who took the position in May 2015, developed the SOP concept, and it remains one of his key initiatives. “I have a sense of frustration here tonight with this conversation. I’m not sure I have a sense of council direction. That will have to come out of further discussions. These are tough decisions, and I invite you to keep that in mind.”
The discussion also left in the lurch nine community members who attended the meeting. And while it was not clear how many of them hoped to share their views with the council on the plan, the length of the discussion shut the door on any chance of public testimony. Many of those in attendance are actively involved in city climate action groups.
Traber noted at the beginning of the meeting the possibility that public testimony might be limited or eliminated while adding that community members will have another opportunity to speak when the council considers final adoption. Although it should be noted that the further along a project gets the harder it sometimes can be to slow down the train.
Traber opened the meeting by asking councilors for their SOP priorities. Things went forward in fits and starts, with Traber often breaking in to refocus the discussion and keep the discussion on schedule as councilors brought up issues such as turkeys in their neighborhood or items that involved spending less than $10,000.
Then, individual department heads gave presentations, but the pieces of the plan that affect the mayor and council as well as Shepard’s office had not yet been discussed by closing time.
Although public comment was not taken the climate issue was brought up repeatedly, with some councilors calling for a full-time city staff climate action position and others pushing for more greenhouse gas inventory work and greater consideration of climate impacts in city projects.
“Work you are doing on climate should be noted,” said Ward 5 Councilor Charlyn Ellis, who also chairs the city’s Climate Action Advisory Board. “If it’s not in the plan it doesn’t exist.”
Many of the discussion topics got caught in the sinkhole of resource allocation.
“I don’t envy you guys’ position,” said Mary Steckel, director of Public Works. “There are so many good ideas out there, but the hours that staff are working are right up to the ceiling.”
One bit of news came out of the discussion. The city is planning to move regular City Council meetings from the downtown fire station to the main meeting room at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, perhaps as early as next year. Shepard noted that the library can accommodate more people and has better parking. Key issues to resolve include technical ones (audio and video recordings of the meetings are made and presentations often include slide shows) and bringing in furniture for the mayor and councilors.