The City Commission of Arkansas City met Jan. 26 for the second of several study sessions dedicated to an orientation and refresher regarding the city’s government structure.

The session was one of several that will take place outside of regular City Commission meetings during the next few weeks.

Each of the five city commissioners received a copy of the revised and updated Governing Body Handbook.

The commission will meet again at noon Feb. 2 in the city manager’s office to go over the next section of the handbook, as well as discuss a proposed ordinance amending contractor definitions.

“We’re just going to go through the book, page by page,” said City Manager Nick Hernandez.

Organizational values

One of the sections covered in the study session last week included the city’s values statement.

“These are our core values,” said City Manager Nick Hernandez. “They are what are supposed to help guide decision making processes of employees when they are doing their daily jobs.”

The core values he spoke of are tied directly to the city’s Statement of Organizational Values and the job descriptions each employee signs. “Not one is more important than another,” Hernandez said.

The statement of organizational values states:

“We value professional ethics, which includes: honesty, compassion, fairness, confidentiality, reliability, stewardship of resources, respectfulness, non-discriminatory behavior, and professionalism and personal courtesy.

“We value commitment to citizens through customer service, which includes: courteous interaction with the public, pride and ownership, programs that address citizen needs, a sense of urgency and responsiveness, a service-oriented approach to patrons, and listening as well as hearing.

“We value commitment to excellence, which includes: an ability to see the big picture, a sense of pride, a commitment to employee knowledge,  employee professionalism, accountability, teamwork, protection of health, safety and public welfare, a willingness to embrace change, a commitment to organizational goals, and clear communications.”

The standards set down in these values are used for several things, not the least of which is the measurement of employee performance. Employees whose performance does not meet the standards set in this policy may face disciplinary action.

When he first came to the city in 2011, not everyone bought into the program, according to Hernandez.

“It is very difficult to change the culture of an organization overnight,” he said. “We’ve had quite a bit of turnover.”

Strategic planning

Hernandez also gave the commissioners an overview of strategic planning.

Past efforts to create broad plans for Arkansas City’s future have included:

  • A 2009 strategic planning commission retreat;
  • The 2010 Municipal Solutions efficiency audit;
  • The 2013-14 update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“The Comprehensive Plan helps establish goals going forward,” Hernandez said.

The city is due to develop a new Comprehensive Plan sometime around 2020.

Evolving plans

Since these studies and goals were established, many of the items already have been accomplished.

Others no longer fit the direction of the organization, Hernandez explained.

For instance, the Municipal Solutions audit included improvement goals for all city departments.

The items found in the audit are generally in one of three states — completed, in progress or obsolete.

Increasing cash on hand, for example, is a goal the city has met — its cash carryover from 2017 now sits somewhere near $900,000, compared to just $10,000 when Hernandez first arrived.

An example of a project in progress is the improvement of water quality in the city.

The new Water Treatment Facility will help this considerably, but so will all of the water line improvements that have been accomplished since 2009 or still are planned in the near future.

Commission procedure

The last topic covered in the study session was commission meetings and procedures.

Hernandez briefly gave an overview of how agendas are created for each of the meetings and the purpose of some of the sections, such as the consent agenda. The commissioners also discussed citizen participation during meetings.

“One of the things you run into is people repeating (each other),” Hernandez said.

The mayor has the ability to dictate how to handle situations in which large groups are sharing the same opinions with the commission during meetings.

In some cases, mayors may allow all of the individuals to speak, while some may prefer to have citizens show their shared opinions by standing to signify their agreement with a speaker.

At any time, Hernandez said, any commissioner can make a motion to “call the question.”

If the motion is seconded and passed, all discussion on the current topic must cease immediately as it comes to a final vote.