An alternative thought for the Minot council

As the City of Minot continues to tinker with procedure, necessary after the change of government structure, leadership does a good job at responding to even unanticipated challenges. The transition process has been handled thoughtfully and with long-term stability in mind.

Just last week, the city council addressed one such type of issue. Meeting in committee, council members discussed the designation of an ombudsman – a member declared the central contact point for resident concerns (who would then presumably direct the concerned resident to the correct department, staffer, etc.) With the ward system gone in the government restructuring, council members serve at large, leaving the public less certain about whom to approach with questions or concerns. Council members also cite confusion about who should respond when all receive the same emails, and they cited a concern about how the open meetings law might apply if they respond. Notably, the potential plan does not prohibit any resident from contacting any or all council members – instead it seeks to streamline the process and make communication between residents and the city easier.

It’s an admirable objective and the administration is more than capable of crafting a plan to make the ombudsman system work.

However, the ombudsman concept still seems like it could potentially place a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of one person.

Perhaps an alternative to consider is the development of portfolios for individual council members. It’s certainly not an uncommon system. Each member would be responsible for addressing certain types of concerns, directing residents to the correct resource and monitoring the progress of the resident through the process. Portfolios could be constructed any number of ways based on an analysis of current resident concern and what they tend to involve. Furthermore, portfolio construction would empower members to apply their own areas of specialty to the important matter of direct engagement with taxpayers.

Residents could then simply look up the appropriate council member on the city website and reach out directly. No more repeat emails or multiple messages. No more confusion about who should respond to what.

An ombudsman system could certainly work. A portfolio system is just an alternative worth considering.