Council talks trust, communication

Published 10:23 pm Thursday, November 5, 2015

City Council members hashed out issues of trust and communication during their first day of a two-day retreat on Thursday.

In a departure from the format of past retreats, which have focused on past accomplishments and future projects and been led by city staff, this year’s retreat is led by Tyler St. Clair, a faculty member of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, and focuses on how City Council members like to receive information and make decisions, the vision of the city and how to get there.

In an introductory session led by St. Clair, council members were asked how they like to provide leadership on the elected body. Several mentioned communication as a strength or as a sticking point.

Email newsletter signup

“Everybody talked about communication,” Councilman Roger Fawcett observed. “Communication among this group is weak at best.”

Councilman Lue Ward agreed.

“Communication is terrible,” he said. “We’ve got a bad problem with trust. We’ve got a bad problem with these cliques.”

St. Clair encouraged council members to focus on how communication and other issues can improve in the future, rather than dwelling on things that have happened in the past.

“We have to move forward,” Councilman Donald Goldberg said. “Let’s find a way we all can work together.”

The issues of communication and trust came back up during an afternoon session where council members and administrators were split into two groups and asked to list things they would like to keep and things they would like to change in order to achieve the ideal Suffolk 20 years from now.

While tangible issues like transportation and managed growth made the list, so did the way council members treat each other and communicate with each other.

Some relationships on council were broken from the start because of occurrences in last year’s campaign, Goldberg said.

“There are a number of us who were treated terribly,” he said. “It’s hard to get over that because of the way we were treated.”

Ward then accused Goldberg of trying to orchestrate a split of the black vote in Ward’s and Curtis Milteer’s boroughs during next year’s elections, an accusation Goldberg denied.

“You ran the other guy’s campaign,” Goldberg responded to Ward, referring to last year’s election.

Fawcett said members of council should refrain from supporting any council incumbents or challengers in the future.

“If you’re on council and you try to undermine a councilman in an upcoming race, that’s disgraceful,” he said.

Councilman Tim Johnson agreed.

“It leads to damaging relationships among council members after the election,” he said.

Council members also discussed the practice of blindsiding their fellow council members during or just before meetings with topics that haven’t been previously discussed.

Fawcett admitted he’s done it but added he “wasn’t sure I had enough faith in some people to take what I was going to do and not twist it.”

Other council members said they were reluctant to talk to their colleagues about issues they planned to bring up because they did not want the other side of the issue to be able to gather support ahead of time.

“You’ve got to find a way to enhance that trust,” Fawcett said. “The general consensus is we need to do more communicating amongst the council, not just with a certain few.”

Council members also got a lesson in self-discovery during a session focused on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a so-called “instrument” that helps people discover whether they are introverted or extroverted, how they prefer to take in information and make decisions, and how they orient to the outer world and prefer to live their lives.

“It is just a way to think about the way people are and the way they like to work in the world,” St. Clair said. “It can increase your self-awareness and confirm things you already know about yourself.”

One revelation from the exercise is that City Manager Patrick Roberts scored the opposite of the majority of his bosses in almost every area.

That’s a positive thing, as Councilman Mike Duman sees it.

“It serves us well,” Duman said, referring specifically to Roberts’ tendency to think about the impact of his decisions on people. “He realizes the decisions that he makes are affecting a great deal of people, whether it’s citizens, council or his employees. If I’m going off course, it’s nice to have somebody who will step up to the plate.”

The retreat continues Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is taking place at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, 1030 University Blvd.