Retreat Provides Venue for Council Members to Air Concerns


Elizabeth Dobbins

Facilitator Sy Murray writes Oberlin City Council goals and concerns on a notepad during a midterm City Council retreat last Saturday morning. Interested community members looked on as the seven City Council members discussed team-building and communication within the Council.

Elizabeth Dobbins, News Editor

The Oberlin City Council is working on communication. Last Friday and Saturday, the seven Oberlin City Council members, a paid facilitator and 10 to 15 interested community members filed into a small conference room at the Oberlin Inn for a rare midterm City Council retreat.

“How can we work as a team if we speak through the media instead of to each other?” asked first-term Oberlin City Council member Sharon Pearson at the retreat.

At the beginning of every two-year Council term, members attend a retreat to set goals; however, this is the first time in over five years that the Council has attended a second retreat during their term, according to City Council President Scott Broadwell.

“This is the first time we’ve had a chance to really talk to each other about procedure that will help us to operate more cohesively,” Pearson said in a phone interview.

The 2014–2015 Council has been characterized by many close 4–3 votes, such as the recent decision to increase Council wages by 66 percent, disagreement during the evaluation process of the city manager and, according to Pearson, communication issues.

“I feel there are some meetings that go on that I don’t have the information [I need] to know,” Pearson said during the retreat.

Other Council members, including longtime Council member Ron Rimbert, disagreed with Pearson’s concern, stating that it is the responsibility of Council members to gather their own information.

“It comes to whoever wants to get out there and get the information,” said Rimbert during the retreat. “If that’s what you want to do, that’s what you do. You have to go out there and go and get it.”

Despite a few tense exchanges, the weekend focused on team-building and possible ways for the Council to improve its functioning.

“Tonight should be a team-building exercise, which is different from a dispute resolution exercise,” said facilitator Sy Murray during the retreat. “How do we act like a team?”

Murray, a former city manager of Cincinnati, Ann Arbor and San Diego, was paid $700 plus travel expenses to oversee and encourage productive discussions last weekend.

The retreat provided members the opportunity to continue to discuss topics which have divided the Council over the past year, such as the rejection of a measure to raise the minimum wage for city employees, the failure of the Green Acres project to gain Council approval before the Feb. 20 tax credit deadline and disputes over communication with the city manager.

“As a council, we need to have a clearer idea of what the goals should be,” Council member Elizabeth Meadows said during the retreat.

Council member Bryan Burgess added that, while he believes the Council shares some goals, members have different approaches to achieving them.

Moving forward, the Council members discussed a variety of solutions, including the possibility of involving the city manager in team-building discussions, different ways to improve the city evaluation of appointees and better outlining of how council members should communicate with each other.

Council Vice President Sharon FairchildSoucy believes the Council may need more than just the goals developed during the retreat to move forward.

“I don’t think we are capable of [acting] on all these issues without professional guidance and leadership,” Fairchild-Soucy said.

Broadwell said the Council is waiting for the report from Murray, which will arrive in the next few weeks, before deciding its next steps. However, he is optimistic.

“I think it went pretty well,” said Broadwell in a phone interview. “I think we had some pretty good discussions. … I think we were able to move forward and hopefully work a little more efficiently for the rest of the year.”