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Crosslake Council Hears “There is room For improvement” in Operations, Governance

Web posted November 21, 2023
By Nancy Vogt, reprinted courtesy of the Echo Journal

Crosslake’s city government operations aren’t the most dysfunctional she’s ever seen, but there is room for improvement.

That’s what Michelle Soldo, of Soldo Consulting P.C., told the city council at the regular meeting Monday, Nov. 13, in an hour-long presentation of the work she did to assess city operations and relationships among staff and council members.

“There are significant issues and internal conflicts within this council and between the council and city administrative staff and some department heads,” Soldo said. “So there is a division. There is a ‘them versus us.’”

That said, Soldo said there is more that unites the council and staff than the differences that divide them. Despite tension, turmoil and trouble, what council members and staff have in common is what will get them to the other side of this, she said.

“The other thing is that the issues that you’re facing are not insurmountable,” Soldo said, but people will have to work together in a unified way to resolve issues.

The council had hired Soldo, an outside independent consultant from the Twin Cities, for up to $5,000 to do a workplace audit and organizational structure assessment for the city.

Soldo talked to city council members, department heads and staff.

“I had the distinct pleasure of watching some of your council meetings online and it became clear to me watching those that there’s conflict — obvious conflict — and it made sense to me after having seen a few why you are looking for some help,” Soldo said.

She identified issues and outlined what the council can do to help resolve those issues.

“I would say that you are a council that is having some growing pains,” Soldo said.

“You really are having some issues that are impacting your effectiveness in terms of your capacity to govern as a council and even impacting administrative staff,” she said.

Soldo identified four key findings: Unproductive internal conflict within the council and between council and staff.

While city staff and council members all have a passion for and dedication to their work and to serve the community, there’s been a breakdown in trust.

Three key issues negatively affect council governance.

First, there’s an internal control issue created by the city administrator also being the finance director that is an organizational risk for the city.

Second, there’s obvious conflict between city administration and the council that plays out both publicly and privately.

Third are issues that impact city governance. Clarification about roles, responsibilities and authority is needed, and accountability needs to be established.

There are key administrative functions that are not being performed, like routine department head and staff meetings and annual performance reviews.S ome compliance issues exist in respect to record keeping.

Issues hinder city governance and operational effectiveness. The council’s working relationships with administrative staff must improve; and city council meetings must be more structured.

Meetings shouldn’t last for four hours, and the council should use Robert’s Rules of Orders, Soldo said.

“The conclusion we all need to reach is that the status quo — what has been happening until now — is really not sustainable. It is not,” Soldo said. “This council needs to take strategic and decisive action to address and work to resolve the concerns and issues identified.”

-Soldo highly recommended the council take advantage of League of Minnesota Cities trainings for all issues identified.

The league offers training on roles, duties and responsibilities. Everyone should learn what everyone should be doing.

Soldo advocated for using a league mediator if need be. People need to get past old grudges and get to better working relationships.

Leadership, trust and relationship woes can be resolved by setting clear, written expectations and using performance evaluations to hold people accountable.

Attending a council training would allow council members to meet others in their same shoes and find support.

“The crazy isn’t all yours. Everybody has a little bit of it,” Soldo said of what the council would learn.

The league also offers customized training that a city has to be considered for, and Soldo asked that Crosslake be approved for such training.

The league said if the city asks for help, they would send someone here to provide the customized assistance.

The council accepted the information Soldo provided and agreed to request the League of Minnesota Cities to: mediate conversations between individual city council members and city hall staff; and provide the city council and city hall staff training related to communication, roles, potential conflicts of interest, the Open Meeting Law, meeting decorum, and Robert's Rules of Order.

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