Special Reports

Team building must wait

Plans for the Tacoma City Council to spend $19,000 on a team-building exercise are "kapoosh for the time being," Mayor Bill Baarsma said Thursday.

"I'd say there is very little sentiment in favor at this time," the mayor added.

Council members endured criticism last week after proposing to hire the Edge Learning Institute for a two-evening, one-day leadership seminar.

Columnists, letter writers and talk-show callers asked how a city that has trouble fixing streetlights can afford money on helping council members snipe less and get along more in the midst of a civic crisis.

But Baarsma said last week that the council wouldn't take on the training unless it could eke the money out of its own budget by scrimping on other things.

During a meeting Tuesday, council members backed away from the idea for a number of reasons.

"I don't think this body really needs it," Councilman Rick Talbert said.

"The concept is good, but I have a problem with the cost," Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg said. "That's over half my salary at Safe Streets for two days plus interviews."

Ladenburg is an adminstrator for the nonprofit group that works to eliminate illegal drug and gang activity in Pierce County.

Sharon McGavick and Bil Moss, both of whom will leave the council at the end of the year, questioned whether it wouldn't be better to wait for such an exercise until after the November elections. At least two - and as many as four - new members will join the panel in January.

"I love the concept, and I think it's valuable," McGavick said. "Do you all want to get sort of on the same page to work on the future of Tacoma for the next few years? To work together, learn about each others' styles? But it would make a lot of sense to me to wait."

Councilman Kevin Phelps, who brought the idea to the council, said Tuesday that he thought such training would be a great use of city funds.

"It's investing back in the decision-makers and the management team," he said. "How does this team, which oversees a $1 billion-plus budget, become more effective and make better policy decisions?"

But on Thursday, Phelps agreed the issue was dead, even though Edge representative Kent Kingman promised that the council could take the training and then write a check of "anywhere from zero to $19,000, depending on what we think the value is."

Kingman said he envisioned training that was less about council members learning to get along than it was about "what they can do in the next two to three months to pull the people of Tacoma together."

"You have a great vision, and you need to get back to that vision," he added.

Baarsma agreed that the thought was good. But he said the cost, the need to seek proposals from other training groups and the timing so close to an election conspired to sink the idea.

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659