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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Nichols

Challenging Questions

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

One thing I tell my children frequently is that if they want a better answer, they need to ask a better question. Usually this comes after they have asked for a bowl of ice cream after they brush their teeth at night. There is a difference between “Dad, can I have some ice cream?” and “Dad, how can I earn some ice cream?” Just as there is a different response based on the kind of questions asked, we can also expect a different outcomes when we ask better questions.

Part of what a citizen on a council needs to bring to the table is the willingness to ask high-quality questions. Questions can provoke many responses, among them defensiveness, surprise, and dialog that can go in surprising directions. But while they always inject some risk into a conversation, they also create opportunity.

In some cases the current council does this, but in other areas obvious questions seem to go unasked. For instance, at a recent meeting there was a recap of city code enforcement activity, and it was shared that City employees drive through town looking at homes and businesses for codes that are not being followed, and then fines are issued to get compliance. In fact, there are dozens of open court cases against residents trying to get them to abide by city codes. A few questions I would have thought to ask, but which were not asked, are as follows:

- What is the code that is being violated in these cases? Can we see a breakdown showing the most common violation types?

- Are these safety related? Who is being harmed in these cases, and does that merit this level of intense response?

- Should we re-consider the code requirements that are driving the majority of these cases?

- Is it appropriate for the city to take legal action against citizens to enforce all of these? What is the decision making process that goes into this action?

- If the city is willing to give blanket variances to large builders for things like setbacks, islands in full de sacs, and other requirements for new developments, is there something similar we ought to be pursuing for citizens where there is not an existing complaint?

If the council is not asking these questions, it will not have the right kind of conversations to ensure they are doing the will of the citizenry- and the last thing we need is government looking out for its own interests first.

What questions do you think the city council should be asking? Send me a comment or a question you have!

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