A planned policy forum featuring all nine members of the City Council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. that would be open to the public is on indefinite hold while the mayor meets individually with each council member, according to District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum.
Bynum proposed the forum, and the council approved it unanimously at its Aug. 26 meeting. The event would be modeled after the council's annual retreat, would be held at a location outside the Inner Dispersal Loop and would be moderated by a neutral third party. The purpose of the forum, Bynum said, would be to focus on developing a consensus between the mayor and council on what the short-term and long-term goals of the city should be.
Bynum had hoped to schedule the forum for sometime in September, but when he met with Bartlett to determine his interest in participating, he said the mayor told him he wasn't ready to take part in something like that yet.
"He wanted the chance to visit with each member of the City Council individually and hash things out before we have a public forum like that," Bynum said. "I guess he thought it would be more productive to iron out his personal conflicts with some councilors before we went ahead with that. I thought that was a reasonable request, so we're in a holding pattern now."
Bynum said he already had met with the mayor, and he was aware that councilors Bill Christiansen of District 8 and Jim Mautino of District 6 had, as well. He said he was not sure if the mayor had met with any other members of the council yet.
Bynum said the mayor's participation is crucial.
"Having him involved in half the equation," he said. "The council already goes through this once on a year on our own."
The District 9 councilor said he was not considering holding a forum without Bartlett.
"I suppose we could try the old political trick of setting up a meeting with an empty chair," he said, laughing. "But I don't think that would be in the spirit of this deal, which is to get rid of the negativity."
Bynum also said he had done no work on two of the other issues regarding the forum -- its location and the moderator -- because he was waiting on a firm commitment from the mayor first.
"I thought it would be quicker than it's taking," Bynum said of Bartlett's meetings with the other councilors. "Meeting with nine councilors doesn't take months, but it's taken a couple of weeks, so far."
Bynum said his own meeting with the mayor went well, indicating they share much common ground.
"I certainly would have liked to hear him say, 'Yeah, let's do that forum in two weeks,' but he and I have been and are in agreement on many things in terms of policy, especially KPMG and river development," he said.
Bynum said the mayor indicated he definitely had an interest in taking part in the forum, provided he was able to clear up his conflicts with several councilors beforehand. The mayor's relationship with several members of the council -- most notably two fellow Republicans, Christiansen and council chairman Rick Westcott -- has deteriorated considerably since shortly after he took office in December 2009.
"I thought that was reasonable and understandable, considering the last nine months and what we've been through," Bynum said of the mayor's delay in accepting the invitation to participate.
Bynum has said the forum is not intended to serve as an avenue for the mayor and council or iron out their differences or have them mediated. The event would serve as a chance for all those officials to identify goals they share and establish a time line for taking action on them, he said.
"I don't know anyone who would disagree with the need for us to get together and work on the things we can agree on," Bynum said. "I think (Bartlett) and the council are of the same mind in that there is a need for the mayor and the council to determine what those things are."
The councilor said he was still willing to give the mayor a little while longer to get back to him as far as when that forum might take place.
"If the month of October goes by, and I haven't heard anything from him, I'll check in with him again," Bynum said. "But it's not as if we've got nothing going on in the meantime. The council is working on the KPMG study, and I'm so focused on campaigning for the rainy day fund (a proposed charter amendment that will go before voters next month) and I've been going out and talking to groups about that. So I've fallen behind on my list of priorities."
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