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Thread: How to deal with one agressive council member?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    How to deal with one agressive council member?

    One part of my job is zoning enforcement which is fine. However, I have one council member that will call me literally everyday and give me 5 new properties with violations, ask me where we are with all the previous cases he's turned in, and generally expect me to do nothing except code enforcement. Again, I have no issues with the aspects of my job but how can I deal with this one person who is driving me crazy? I have told him the process, the challenges of enforcement (which just makes me look lazy), and how we deal with complaint but he really wants my job to be full-time nuisance enforcement.

    What can I do to deal with this person and not stress out about even coming to work for fear of him?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Is this person the chair? If not, you will need to work with the chair to get this person to understand the limits of their purview as board member. Their job is to show up to a meeting once a month, not to micromanage planning staff. You can play this person and the ZBA chair against one another by portraying this as the board member attempting to undermine the chair, as it could potentially make the chair look bad to have another board member calling the shots and using up staff time without prior approval.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Explain to him that you are in charge of other things. Tell him to push for more man power / funding if he wants more enforcement.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    In my city, the city manager pro-actively tells council managers that he is the one who gives work to the staff. Council members are to go through him. What we do when a council member calls with stuff like this is say that we've been told the council member has to give it to the city manager to deal with. The CM tells the council members not to bug us because we have plenty of work to do.

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    In my city, the city manager pro-actively tells council managers that he is the one who gives work to the staff. Council members are to go through him. What we do when a council member calls with stuff like this is say that we've been told the council member has to give it to the city manager to deal with. The CM tells the council members not to bug us because we have plenty of work to do.
    That's how my last city employer was. A discussion of his role in managing staff and workflow was part of the 'Council Orientation Workshop' held before new Councilmembers officially took office.

    The cover our CM always used (because the 'respect my authoritah' city charter-based reason tends to make Councilmembers mad) was that all communication between staff and Council was subject to open records and that sending all information through the CM's office improved the city's ability to respond quickly and accurately to requests. Also, the CM would say that in some cases he might assign the issue to a different staff member based on topic and workflow management.

    This was a really rare issue though--my Councils did a good job respecting boundaries. Maybe the occasional call about a rumor they heard, but that was about it. All of our complaints like what you described were handled through an automated telephone line and interactive website form. This allowed us to really treat Councilmember nuisance complaints like any other citizen, which was good because the Councilmembers were exposed to how we treat all customers.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    I concur with Otis. The manager needs to be responsible for job assignments and tasks, and Council should work through them to get something done. At a minimum, the manager need to know what council/board/commissioners are asking from you. If any of their requests could or would occupy a significant amount of your time, it needs to be approved by your supervisor(s). Hopefully your manager won't leave you on the hook to do whatever they ask.

    This system is also for their benefit, so that everyone at the Council-Manager level is on the same page, and no one is out of the loop on what is going on. You need one voice giving you directions, and they need to be sharing information with each other. No end arounds and surprises with you in the middle between two councilpersons or between a councilperson and the manager.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    It sounds as if Paiste does not work for a manager. In that case, JeromeR's advice is good. I may be tempted to tell thke alleged violators who made the complaint.

    You might want to go to the full council and discuss your work program and time allocation vis-a-vis shifting priorities from above.
    Last edited by mike gurnee; 12 May 2010 at 11:01 AM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    It's not as simple as telling him my job duties.

    Citizens call me up and complain about an issue and I take notice. Then the next day this council member will call me up and ask about the issue plus the past 15 cases he's turned in to me throughout the week. I will tell him the time frame for the project but it is never good enough. It "always takes too long" (even though our attorney has set up the process according to state laws). When people don't comply I fine them most are absentee property owners so they don't care. The way our code is set up we can't throw them in jail or anything so don't mention it, please.

    It's not the end of the world it's just difficult because the council member will ask me about something, I'll answer, and then he'll go to our city manager, and then the city manager will ask me about it. It just goes round and round. We don't have the budget for a full-time nuisance enforcement officer.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by paiste13 View post
    It's not as simple as telling him my job duties.

    Citizens call me up and complain about an issue and I take notice. Then the next day this council member will call me up and ask about the issue plus the past 15 cases he's turned in to me throughout the week. I will tell him the time frame for the project but it is never good enough. ... the council member will ask me about something, I'll answer, and then he'll go to our city manager, and then the city manager will ask me about it. It just goes round and round. We don't have the budget for a full-time nuisance enforcement officer.
    Presumably you have e-mail. (My most recent code enforcement gig did not.)

    Document everything. After/during one of his calls, send a message about it to the CM (and/or your supervisor), copying him. You might even provide a boilerplate document.

    Councilman Jim Jones code enforcement complaints, week of May 10

    Status | Date addressed


    Needless to type, e-mails are public records. Use the passive voice and a non-accusatory tone. I'd give him two weeks before he gets tired of it.

  10. #10
         
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Presumably you have e-mail. (My most recent code enforcement gig did not.)

    Document everything. After/during one of his calls, send a message about it to the CM (and/or your supervisor), copying him. You might even provide a boilerplate document.

    Councilman Jim Jones code enforcement complaints, week of May 10

    Status | Date addressed


    Needless to type, e-mails are public records. Use the passive voice and a non-accusatory tone. I'd give him two weeks before he gets tired of it.
    Pure passive-aggressive genius. I wish I had thought of that first.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Presumably you have e-mail. (My most recent code enforcement gig did not.)

    Document everything. After/during one of his calls, send a message about it to the CM (and/or your supervisor), copying him. You might even provide a boilerplate document.

    Councilman Jim Jones code enforcement complaints, week of May 10

    Status | Date addressed


    Needless to type, e-mails are public records. Use the passive voice and a non-accusatory tone. I'd give him two weeks before he gets tired of it.
    You're my hero. We're instituting this TODAY!
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  12. #12
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Your CM is a wimp.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Your CM is a wimp.
    Nah, just not completely in the loop. Jim Jones is playing staff off the CM. Another tack: he could be assigned to a special Council committee (since clearly he has extra time on his hands).

    Oh, and keep track of any citizen kudos that come your way. When I was with the larger muni mentioned under my avatar, folks sent faxes and **hand-written thank-you cards complimenting my helpfulness. Address an issue, then get back to the complainer (not Jones, the citizen) and ask if it was satisfactorily resolved. Let 'em talk (and talk, and talk).

    HTH

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