You've been hard at work, day after day, trying to stay on top of the daily blizzard of to-dos. Getting the kids to soccer practice. Keeping the boss happy. Balancing the checkbook. Shopping for groceries. Walking the dog. Sometimes it feels like you're so busy doing things that you can't even remember if you're actually doing the right things.
So, every once in a while, you take a little time off from the daily grind, maybe think about those big-picture issues that get lost in the fog of everyday busy-ness. And suddenly, it feels like you've got a better handle on things.
Seems like that's where Charlotte's City Council found itself at the end of last week. The council members, on their annual planning retreat, spent Wednesday and Thursday doing bus tours of all the council districts, stopping at specific spots where district representatives could point out specific issues or projects. For instance, District 1 representative Patsy Kinsey showed council members the ongoing city-backed renovations at Mecklenburg Mills in NoDa. Here's a video the city produced from that stop:
After the tours, council members on Friday gushed about how much insight they'd gained by getting to see some of the city's key places, people and issues first-hand. Not surprisingly, the seven district representatives, who by design fight for their specific part of town, were among the most ebullient.
District 3 representative LaWana Mayfield thanked her colleagues for being open to learning more about specific challenges in the districts. "We won't always agree, but for me, this has been the best conference for our council retreats that I have been a part of to this point."
District 6's Kenny Smith agreed: "To see how we govern was an important part of this retreat for me ... when we're up at the dais and when we vote, I now have more insight into your thought patterns and hopefully you have more insight into my thought patterns. To me, this was just a great retreat."
To which one is tempted to say: You guys really ought to get out more often.
And it appears they will. Mayor Dan Clodfelter suggested they look for issues they can block out a couple of hours on specific days for "targeted mini-tours." That's a good idea. City Council members are part-time public servants, generally facing a blizzard of staff-generated reports and analysis on issues of the day. And since we elected them, not the staff, we need for them to actually know what they're talking about when they're sitting at that dais. They can get a much better sense of the city's needs by seeing things first-hand. Much better than say, sitting around a (high-priced) conference table in Pinehurst or Asheville, the typical hosts for planning retreats.
So, good for our City Council members. Here's hoping other local government leaders take notes.