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Council may change meeting format

When the Newton City Council decided to terminate former city attorney Darrin Hamilton’s contract, its members knew there was going to be some major changes. They hired the Brick Gentry P.C. law firm to assume Hamilton’s role. Matt Brick was assigned to Newton.

He was to be paid hourly, and this prompted the council to consider changing the format of their meetings by possibly introducing a workshop style council session during Monday night’s city council meeting.

City Administrator Robert Knabel has been conducting research by contacting other cities who had gone through the same issue, and said the following:

“I made two contacts. One was to this Marketa Oliver, who is now the city administrator of Norwalk, (and) who was the city administrator of Windsor Heights. We spoke (about) her transition and (how) that happened relatively quick before her leaving of Windsor Heights to Norwalk. The situation there was one of engaging and developing a trust level between council and staff. There were some dysfunctional efforts going on there that they thought this would be helpful as a way to develop a greater cohesion between council. She ascertained that the council members would see this as being very effective in terms of just engaging one another, having conversations between one another.”

He also said Oliver said the workshop style session proved to be beneficial to the council, and to get a second opinion, Kanbel spoke to Altoona City Administrator Jeff Mark.

“Jeff, when he arrived 15 years ago, instituted a work session,” Knabel said. “They have three meetings a month, (and) one of which, is a work session. So they’ve been doing it for 15 years and have found it to be very effective, and it’s informal. They set it up, just like we’ve talked about doing — having it set up on the council floor, on the round tables and just (to) encourage good communication between council.”

Kanbel said Mark’s council used the informal format to discuss issues like the possibility of giving incentives to new developers.

“In Altoona, there is typically no public participation in those sessions that become work sessions,” Knabel said. “They also take no action. There is obviously no actions taken in those incidences. It has to come back to the council for any action to be taken at a later time. One of the other things that he mentioned is that, I would throw out (there) is the staff might be cheering too loudly for you to hear this, but staff was not there except if they had a topic for discussion that evening. So the council and the staff that were appropriate to that topic would be the ones (attending the meeting).”

Knabel said the workshop would help council members work out issues with proposed resolutions.

Council member Noreen Otto wanted to address the public and say if the council meetings were to change, and a workshop style meeting were to occur, the public would still be invited to come.

Knable provided some clarity soon after Otto’s statement.

“Certainly the meetings are open to the public, “Kanbel said. “There will be seating available to the public.”

The council did not vote on a change yet, but the matter will more than likely be voted on in a future council meeting.

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at

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