Tradition allows councilors, city staff to team-build and plan ahead of time

With election season over and changes to Tualatin’s Transportation System Plan more or less finalized, it was time for the City Council to retreat — to the Tualatin Country Club for a two-day conference.

Two full-day sessions scheduled for Sunday and Monday mark the biennual tradition common to city councils across the region. The gathering provides councilors, city staff and department leaders the opportunity to reflect, reassess and recharge as they discuss what is ideally a unified vision for the direction of the city.

“We spent a fair amount of time talking about the future vision of Tualatin as it relates to a number of areas,” Mayor Lou Ogden said. The retreat addressed topics of “transportation, transit, livable communities, neighborhoods, connectedness, citizen engagement, communication, economic development and improving future revenues for the community so that we can provide the types of services and facilities that our community has demonstrated that it values.”

The retreat was organized and led by business strategist Jim Oswald of Los Angeles-based Gensler Consulting. Both City Manager Sherilyn Lombos and Deputy City Manager Sara Singer had previously worked with Oswald and were impressed with his creative approach to facilitating conversation.

“He’s a graphics facilitator,” Lombos said, “and he creates these murals of what’s being talked about — they look like a mix between architectural drawing and graffiti art.”

According to Ogden, Oswald met individually with each of the city’s councilors prior to the retreat to gauge areas of concern and interest, then worked with Lombos to jointly develop the retreat’s agenda.

One exercise asked councilors and staff to envision the headlines they’d like to see in Tualatin newspapers 20 years in the future. Examples of councilor-submitted headlines included “Tualatin attracts top 100 businesses.”

Ogden said Oswald was far and away the best facilitator he’d ever seen.

Ogden said the council touched on “expanding and refining our citizen connectedness” and how to further facilitate the exchange of information between Tualatin’s neighborhoods, potentially through enhanced online resources from the city, more extensive streaming of City Council meetings and work sessions — even to the point, Ogden said, where residents could participate live in council debates remotely.

During each retreat, it’s customary for the council to revisit its list of vision statements, which include ongoing goals for the city. This session, a couple statements were revised or removed entirely, such as the council’s previous vision statement to put a premium on beautification projects throughout the city.

According to Councilor Monique Beikman, that vision statement reads as dated now.

“We updated that because we felt all the projects we’ve done and finished — river frontage, the Gateway Project, ongoing street trees programs — we felt these efforts are ongoing,” she said.

Lombos said such retreats also allow councilors to talk about the city’s future “at a higher level” than they have the chance to during regular work sessions with more restrictive agendas.

Conversation touched on the types of industry Tualatin could ideally attract, “the kind of business of the future that not only contributes to the tax base,” Ogden said, “but that contributes to the livability of Tualatin.”

Such “niche industries” mentioned included clean or green technology, or an expansive biotechnology service center, and potentially establishing an annexed “medical district” west of Legacy Meridian Park Hospital.

It wasn’t all policy discussion and long-term planning, however. Team-building exercises included a Sunday evening trip to a cooking class at In Good Taste in Lake Oswego, where councilors and staff were split into four separate teams, each working together to learn a different soup recipe.

“Ed Truax’s team produced a mean carrot potage,” Lombos admitted.

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