The Dayton City Commission has approved funding to hire professional mediators to try to repair and improve the relationships between the commission’s five members after heated clashes over the budget, policies, legislation and other differences of opinion.
These services hopefully will help the commission work better together as a team, said Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr.
“Going through this process will help us to become our best selves,” he said. “Sometimes we have not been the best in terms of how we represent ourselves, how we represent the community.”
But the commission has some deep divisions that may not be easy to bridge.
This was underscored by a recent dispute over the process the commission used to search for and hire a new director of the commission office.
“We talk about wanting to work as a team, but what’s clear is that we work 3 to 2, and I think if we’re just honest about that and not go through the façade of saying we work as a team, a lot of the conflict would wash away,” said Dayton City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild.
The city commission this week approved two professional services agreements with mediation consultants from Maryland worth a combined $30,000.
The goal is to improve communication, trust and working relationships between the commission members, the professional services agreements state.
The consultants will meet with commission members and the city manager individually and then will recommend mediation sessions between people who have conflicts that impact the functioning of the commission, says a proposal for services.
Mediation sessions will involve no more than two members at a time, though the mediators may recommend additional mediation and group facilitation sessions.
The Dayton City Commission regularly splits its votes 3 to 2, with Mayor Mims and Commissioners Matt Joseph and Chris Shaw in the majority.
Commissioners Fairchild and Shenise Turner-Sloss regularly cast dissenting votes and publicly disagree with their three other colleagues.
The two groups have had contentious disagreements about the budget and budget priorities, proposed changes to city commission rules and police surveillance technology.
Some community members recommended the commission seek mediation services during a fight over the 2023 budget.
Commissioner Fairchild said he has “muted expectations” about mediation.
He said conflict on the commission began long ago, and he thinks it stems from efforts to limit how much he and Turner-Sloss can participate in making decisions.
Fairchild said he thinks mediation will be helpful if commission members can be honest with each other.
But disagreements continue to arise, including one discussed this week about the way the commission searched for someone to replace Torey Hollingsworth, who is stepping down as director of the city commission office to accept another job.
Commissioner Turner-Sloss said the commission did not use a transparent or competitive process to search for a new director.
She said the commission did not seek applications from candidates outside the city organization and that many city employees were not aware of the job opening.
“We did not cast a wide net,” she said. “We are doing a disservice to residents and we’re doing a disservice to this body in its entirety.”
Fairchild said the job opening wasn’t even posted internally, which was requested and should have happened so every city employee would know about the opportunity and could recommend it to good candidates.
Following an executive session, the commission on Wednesday voted 3 to 2 to appoint Verletta Jackson as the the chief of staff, which is the new name for Hollingsworth’s position. Fairchild and Turner-Sloss cast the dissenting votes.
Jackson is currently division manager of community engagement for the city.
Shaw said the commission identified some very good candidates.
Joseph, who was first elected to the commission nearly 20 years ago, said the process the commission has used to look for candidates for the director position has remained mostly constant his entire time in office.
He said it’s critical that the director is familiar with the city organization and has existing connections and relationships.
“Bringing somebody from the outside and having them learn the organization would take a year or two or more and we’d be sort of teaching them before they could help us,” he said.
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