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Schubert’s e-mails discussed at retreat

April 15, 2001 

Bend City Councilor John Schubert sends too many e-mails to city administrators, adding weight to their already heavy workloads, his fellow councilors said at a Bend City Council retreat Saturday.

Councilors met to brainstorm ways they could work better as a team and a policy-making board for city staff — whose job it is to implement their policies.

They did not criticize Schubert’s messages or motives on Saturday, but said the volume of e-mails was too great. No rules were adopted at the retreat, but councilors discussed how they should communicate with city staff.

Months ago, Schubert was the subject of criticism for overstepping his bounds as an individual councilor and e-mailing suggestions to city department heads. Although the flow of e-mails slowed down for a while, the communication has kicked in again recently, said Interim City Manager Ron Garzini last week. Garzini was not at the retreat.

“He’s got an agenda and he doesn’t seem to just serve as a policy maker. He wants to be involved in the minute details of the day to day. It makes it very difficult for me and other department heads,” Garzini said.

But Schubert said he is merely asking questions, paying attention to details about issues that he’s involved with and sending friendly reminders to staff. Many of his e-mails have involved alternative transportation issues.

Schubert’s e-mail activity flourished when the new council took office, said Councilor Kathie Eckman. Schubert endorsed the newly elected council members, so the perception might be that Schubert spoke for the majority of the council, she said. So, if Schubert were to ask city staff members to look into something, they might feel the suggestion was coming from the entire council.

“There needs to be the understanding that if John speaks ... he is only speaking for himself,” Eckman said.

Councilors generally agreed that the city’s charter was vague and did not adequately define the role of the councilors and how they are supposed to relate to city staff. “Perhaps I crossed the line on occasions, but I think it’s a misunderstanding,” Schubert said.

“The council needs to decide its ground rules and it shouldn’t revolve around me.”

The general consensus from the group was: individual councilors may speak only for themselves; the city council only has one employee — the city manager — and it can’t direct anyone else like department heads; and council policies do not change until the entire council changes it.

Most councilors agreed they did not want to create black-and-white, inflexible rules that defined the amount of e-mails anyone could write or to whom they could communicate.

Eckman repeatedly said that e-mailing practices should be treated with common sense, discretion, diplomacy and respect.

Eckman and Councilor Oran Teater said they sometimes feel left in the dark when Schubert corresponds with staff or other councilors and they are not included in the communication loop. At the same time, neither said they wanted to receive any more e-mail because they can hardly keep up with what they already receive.

John Hummel said while he agrees that Schubert sends too many e-mails, he doesn’t question his motive.

“I don’t want to tell him to stop. If voters want him to stop, they’ll vote him out,” Hummel said. “Everyone has a different style.”

Councilor Bruce Abernethy agrees.

“A lot of it boils down to different expectations that people have of what a council management structure looks like. In my talking with fellow councilors, Oran (Teater) is on one end of the spectrum ... with a hands-off approach. On the other end of spectrum is John (Schubert) with the more activist model,” Abernethy said last week.

The most important thing is whether it’s effective, said Abernethy. And he’s not sure Schubert’s e-mail method is the most effective way to get things done.

Hummel said he has been disappointed that disagreements between councilors have not been limited to style or policy differences, but rather, disagreements have become personal.

Mayor Bill Friedman said councilors should agree to disagree — and remain civil to each other.

Friedman also initiated a discussion about possibly slowing down the pace at which the city is working through issues. The agendas are too full, most councilors have full-time jobs and not enough time is being given to important policy decisions.

“Because of that, we’re not doing enough homework on stuff,” Friedman said.

“Staff’s work deteriorates because we’re pushing them too hard. We might slow things down a little for a higher quality of work.”

By Anne Aurand, © Copyright 2001 Western Communications, Inc.

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