Appearing relaxed and at times joking around, Nisswa City Council members along with the city administrator sat around a table at city hall to discuss their roles, communication, teamwork and relationships.
The workshop Wednesday, April 25, with two people from the League of Minnesota Cities, was aimed at improving communication through collaborative decision-making. Three city staff members - Deputy Clerk Maggi Wentler, Public Works Director Tom Blomer and Police Chief Craig Taylor - were in the audience but did not participate.
Participants agreed afterward that the workshop was worthwhile, and some said it was more beneficial than they anticipated.
"I think it's really important that councils do that sort of thing," Mayor Fred Heidmann said. "I think it's important because we can get so tied into our personal feelings and beliefs that we do forget that we're there for the good of the city, and really, we all have that in mind."
The idea for such a workshop arose after tension and an issue arose between Heidmann and council member Ross Krautkremer.
Krautkremer indicated early skepticism about the workshop but said he did learn a bit about meeting protocol and that micromanaging is taking up staff time. He said the workshop will lead him to concentrate on some of his actions.
"If everybody - myself included - if we all take to heart our actions and what we're doing, then it will be a good thing. At the end of the day I can only deal with myself," he said. "If everyone listened and took it to heart, then it's going to help."
Council member Gary Johnson admitted he went into the workshop with not a great attitude but was pleasantly surprised. Whether on a city council or in day-to-day employment, people can always be better at communicating, he said, adding that those present were reminded of why they serve on the city council.
"We're not doing it because it's a lot of fun or we're making money. We're doing it because we care about the city," Johnson said.
"If we can all take the tidbit - sit back and say maybe we have different opinions, viewpoints, but we're all here for the same reason. If we can just all take a deep breath and think about that - it will be healthy," he said.
It's not easy to deal with five personalities on a council, and not all issues will be solved in one meeting, said council member John Ryan.
"It was worthwhile," he said of the workshop. "I think it's a good thing if you're experiencing communication or lack of it or miscommunication. I think it was really helpful to point out to take a step back, take a breath. Be respectful of each other; hear each other out."
The most important lesson he took away is that when elected to a position, it's important to get educated.
"Don't just assume you know how to do it. Get educated and come at it with real expectations and not visions of grandeur like, 'I'm going to solve the world's problems,'" Ryan said.
Council member Don Jacobson said it's always good to have a review of what the council should and shouldn't be doing and how it handles things.
Part of the workshop focused on meeting protocol and the council liaison-department head relationship. City hall staff and the council have undergone changes since Jenny Max joined the city as its first administrator eight months ago.
"I definitely found it worthwhile. I think it was a great first step," Max said of the workshop. "I didn't come into it thinking it would solve all of our problems. It's just not realistic to expect that."
Max said the League of Minnesota Cities representatives did a good job laying foundations for running meetings and being effective in meetings.
She also cited the first exercise that showed all council members and Max were there for similar reasons.
"That set it off in a positive tone," Max said.
Heidmann said getting council members together in such a workshop "can give perspectives of the other people we make decisions with," which is important. He'd like to have similar workshops a couple times a year to build relationships.
Pam Whitmore, with the League of Minnesota Cities, visited Nisswa a few months ago and spoke with council members individually and Max.
Whitmore said she heard there is some conflict in Nisswa, and while it wasn't stopping work from getting done, at times it's miserable for council and staff. She said conflict isn't necessarily bad, but it's important to have conflict in a respectful manner.
The council and Max agreed to work on a set of procedures regarding Max's role as administrator.