With one voice?

Earlier this year, City Council decided to revamp the way it approaches its annual goal-setting retreat and budget-development process.

In the past, Council has generally met for one or two days of brainstorming in the winter and agreed on a set of goals for the coming year. Those goals are then reflected in the budget recommendations Council makes to the city manager.

But last year, four Council members — Terry Bellamy, Joe Dunn, Holly Jones and Brian Peterson — staged an 11th-hour coup, introducing their own budget after they’d collectively charged that the one the city manager had prepared did not reflect the goals set at that year’s retreat. The rebels’ budget, which remains in effect through this June, was adopted amid a heated debate over process.

Seeking to avoid a repeat of that brouhaha, Council members decided to try something different this time around. They explained the new approach, based on a model known as “performance-based management,” in a commentary that appeared in the May 1 Asheville Citizen-Times under a collective byline.

“Performance-based management is built on the idea that focusing on mission, agreeing on goals and measuring results are the keys to improved performance,” they wrote. “Perhaps the most valuable component of performance-based management is its recognition that differences exist. In fact, the strength of this model lies in working beyond differences to evaluate common goals and create a cohesive, long-range purpose.”

A key component of this model is developing a shared vision for the city. To that end, Council held an intensive three-day retreat March 5-7 at the Highland Lake Inn in Henderson County, facilitated by a pair of private consultants from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, hired by the city for about $15,000. Later that month, Council members continued the process in two follow-up mini-retreats held in a City Hall conference room, spending hours fine-tuning a shared vision and mission for the city (along with corresponding goals and operating guidelines).

The May 1 commentary presents the results of this activity, including the vision statement Council members eventually agreed on: “A vision for the future where we can chart the path to success and work with steadfastness to achieve that destiny; where we can speak with one voice in moving forward to attain common goals.”

— Brian Sarzynski

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