Thursday, November 12, 2015

How Today’s Municipal Council Governs



“How to govern?” may be among the first questions a Municipal Councilor asks. In Provo, the answer to the question appears in the state legislative code and the municipal code, which address issues of the structure of municipal government, duties of the municipal council, and sundry related matters. A variant of the question—“How does the Municipal Council govern itself?—is not answered in the same sources. Consulting the Provo City Municipal Council Handbook may be helpful.

In 2012, at the urging of Matthew Taylor, the Municipal Council Executive Director, the Council began to study a formal model of governance. It was the brainchild of Dr. John Carver, an academic organizational psychologist, who called it policy governance. According to the model, the Provo City Municipal Council would be most effective when it adopted a role analogous to that of a board of directors or a board of trustees. In other words, it would not assume the executive (CEO) role in the city’s operation; that role is properly the mayor’s. Nor would it appoint the CEO; the mayor is duly elected by those who vote. Instead, the Council would concern itself strictly with policy review and policy making.

Carver’s model specifies four sectors of policy governance. The first, and most critical, is vision. The Council must ask and answer the question “Where do you want to go?”, which is related to questions such as “What do you want Provo to be?” and “How will Provo look and feel?” The Council’s subsequent, close review of Provo City Vision 2030 made clear that the document constituted a formidable, creative response to those questions. It is a remarkable, 14-section document forged during the first year of Mayor John Curtis’s tenure at his instigation and by an all-star lineup of the leaders of government, business, education, charity, and other notable entities within the city. It offers a panoramic, structured vista accompanied by specific objectives within each section. Recently, the Council has determined that Vision 2030 should have pride of place in its legislative intents, as the frontispiece to the City’s General Plan, and as the subtext for an ongoing rotation of formal conversations with the 14 collectives that represent each section of Vision 2030. This iterative review may become the basis for updating the document—Vision 2035, Vision 2040, and so on.

The other sectors of the policy-governance model are, respectively, the Council’s internal governance, its relationship with the CEO, and its adoption of constraints on the CEO. Accordingly, the Council has appointed some of its members to an internal policy governance subcommittee and a policy subcommittee. These meet regularly in order to consider issues related specifically to the application of the policy governance model in Council affairs and to the Council’s internal policies and procedures. The subcommittees report to the full Council about their work, including proposals. The Council also meets regularly with the Mayor at its twice-monthly Work Meetings to receive his reports and recommendations (often provided by others in his administration at his invitation) and to discuss them prior to acting officially on them in subsequent Council Meetings. The Work Meetings also provide the opportunity for the Council to establish policy parameters for the administration’s work, usually at the Mayor’s request but not necessarily.

Given the imposing scale of the City administrative operations (approximately a thousand full- and part-time employees) and the City annual budget (approximately $200 million) , the Municipal Council’s role as a board of directors providing advice and consent, encouraging and pushing back, while all the time maintaining an ambitious vision for the city and its future, is an apt one. The present instantiation of the policy governance model has conduced to mutual regard between the Council and the administration and to a quality of rapport marked by legislative efficiency, not to mention the City’s crowded trophy case of regional and national honors.

Note: This piece is the second of four that Mr. Miller is writing as his tenure on the Municipal Council comes to an end.

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