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Northfield City Council Holds Annual Retreat - January 29, 2013

January 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm
By Jane McWilliams

The retreat was held in the meeting room of the Northfield Enterprise Center’s co-working site SPUR on Division Street.  ( 

Working Relationships:  Facilitated by consultant Sheila Krejei (, the council underwent an analysis of their individual decision-making traits as a step toward developing productive working relationships. Prior to this meeting, Ms. Krejei asked each person to complete a written analysis. During this time together, she explained the DISC theory, and began the process of helping each councilor identify their own style and recognize the style of their colleagues. She spent some time at the end eliciting from each how they might more successfully work with people with styles different from their own. 

According to the Krejei DISC technique, there are four different decision-making styles:  Drive, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance.  People tend to fall into one of the four, but may also have a lesser degree of the other traits. By the end of the exercise, the 7 councilors’ traits were mapped on a quadrant of the four styles so that they could see not only their own placement, but also that of their colleagues.  Mayor Dana Graham, and Councilors Rhonda Pownell, Erica Zweifel, and David Ludescher were in the Drive quadrant. Councilors Suzy Nakasian and Jessica Peterson White were in the Influence, while Councilor David DeLong soloed in the Compliance quadrant. (City Administrator Tim Madigan, who also took the assessment but not in some of the other activities, fell into the Steadiness quadrant. ) For a more details about this theory and about the characteristics of each quadrant: 

Council Rules:  City Administrator Madigan reviewed and took suggestions about the roles and responsibilities of the mayor, council, city administrator, department heads, employees and citizens as outlined in an undated, unidentified document some of which reflects the City Charter.  Councilor Nakasian said she thinks there is ambiguity about who sets the council agenda and about who determines what information comes to the council and in what form. Councilor DeLong said he would like staff to provide more options along with their recommendations so that the council could see what other things were considered. Everyone agreed that there should be less time taken up at meetings by staff and more time for deliberation by the council.  

Mr. Madigan noted that it is important for councilors to communicate to staff through him, that there are exceptions in the cases where councilors work directly with staff on boards and commissions. It is important for all council members to have all the information, and if council members have questions about policy issues, he should be in the loop.  Naturally, if an employee has concerns as a citizen, for example, whether a sidewalk will be built in their neighborhood, it is appropriate to address the council member directly.  On the other hand,  when Councilor Pownell said she was glad they might have a meeting with the directors, because for her, relationship creates a foundation, Councilor Peterson White stressed that role clarity and open sharing of information is critical. 

2013 Goals:  Because of the length of the other discussions, the council got to this item after 9p.m., and was not able to complete the process by their 10;00 adjournment.  They had before them the 2012 goals with indications of current progress, and began to look at these although they had in their packets suggestions for additional ones from several councilors and from staff.  Mr. Madigan called attention to the need for council direction to the Planning Commission on where to go with the final work on the Land Development Code.  He said there are “philosophical issues” at play. When asked by Councilor Zweifel whether they will need a consultant or the city planner for this, he said it depends on which direction they take.  Community Development Director Chris Heineman has a list of what has been done and what still needs to be done. “It is a complex code and there are places that aren’t complete and places which need to be corrected.” A joint session with the Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled for March. 

When asked whether the council wants to take up a discussion of the Business Park, Councilor Nakasian said it would be necessary to look at the Economic Development Plan for a context and for the benefit of the new council. 

Before they take up discussion of the 2013 goals again, Mayor Graham asked that councilors send their addition to Mr. Madigan and then they will rank them and the existing ones.

COMMENT: This was an ambitious evening. Given people’s time demands outside their council responsibilities, a four-hour evening meeting may be as much time as can be allocated. However, something has to be short-changed when there is so much to do and so little time. In this case, it was a thorough consideration of goals and priorities. 

In refining the 2013 work plan the staff suggested:

  • Identifying areas where more information is needed
  • Identify non-consensus and undecided items and determine direction
  • Develop a process for focus on issues and projects
  • Send items to boards and commissions with specific direction and timeline 

At least one other session will be needed i f this is indeed their decision process. 

The DISC exercise allowed informally directed interaction among council members, something there is no time for at formal meetings and it provided an opportunity for the seated councilors and the newly elected members to become better acquaninted. According to their website, DISC can help participants:

  • Learn to appreciate behavioral strengths, challenges and differences in yourself and in others
  • Discover ways of dealing with conflict effectively
  • Enhance teamwork and reduce team conflict
  • Improve communication skills through determining communication styles. 

If the science of the DISC exercise is valid and individuals take it seriously, it tonight’s work may be helpful in smoothing out potential bumps as this council moves forward on what looks to be a busy road ahead.


  • January 31 2013 at 6:42 am
    David Ludescher


    The "C" actually stands for "Compentence", not "Compliance".

  • January 31 2013 at 7:47 am
    kiffi summa

    OK ... call me 'old fashioned' ... but when two thirds-three quarters of the retreat is spent learning to work together, I say there is a need for these adults to exercise a bit more self discipline during their council meetings. These are all mature adults, who've been in the workplace for years, and it seems self indulgent to waste the retreat discussion time on an exercise of this sort. Now some of the planning, goal setting, rules of business issues will have to wait for , what? another retreat? Actually, if you think of what a councilor's initial responsibility is, or rather to whom, it is to the people who elected them, not to each other. Councilor Peterson-White is probably the youngest, and seems to have the analytical skills and ability to cut to the heart of any discussion issue; maybe the Council should just recognize and defer to that sort of leadership quality when it presents itself, rather than engage in competitive distraction.

  • January 31 2013 at 7:54 am
    David Ludescher


    I thought the DISC survey was misleading.  The graph showed that 5 council members were tightly grouped in decision-making style (everyone except Ludescher and DeLong) DeLong and I were much closer to each other than I was to those 5.

    I thought another misleading aspect of the DISC exercise was that we spent time talking about our decision-making styles (procedure) without any discussion of the our philosophies of governance (substance).

    I suspect that when it comes to the substance of governance, there are significant philosophical differences in how much we think government should control in our individual lives.  I wish we had spent more time talking about the substance of the decision-making process, rather than the procedure.

    In my opinion, making decisions smoothly and efficiently should not be a goal of government.  Justice/fairness is both the goal and the criteria of good government.

  • January 31 2013 at 10:31 am
    Jane McWilliams

    Thanks for the response, David. I got the word "compliance" from the Wiki article - I should have reported the nomenclature used at the retreat, but wasn't able to capture it at the time. ˆt would be interesting and useful for the council to talk about the "substance of governance" to learn about individual philosophies. As you imply, there are likely a variety of views on how much government should (and how it should?) control our individual lives. Given that likely difference, I think it is valuable for a group to get better acquainted with how individuals express their views and how they come to them in the first place in order to be more effective at reconciling differences, if this is possible. Ultimately, of course, each of you has a vote, and when you can't persuade, you can always weigh in.

  • January 31 2013 at 10:42 am
    Jane McWilliams

    Kiffi - I agree that they tried to tackle too much Tuesday. And one could argue that in terms of time a serious consideration of the 2013 goals was more important than working on relationships. As I said to David, I think an exercise like DISC can be useful if not curative. Based on my observation of the first few meetings this year, I think the DISC exercise might be helpful in creating better communication between councilors. I didn't attend the retreat the last time Ms. Krejei worked with them. Did you feel it was a waste of time then, too?

  • January 31 2013 at 4:22 pm
    David Ludescher


    I think the DISC exercise would have been much more helpful if we had talked more about where government should be on the DISC scale rather than where we are as individuals.

    The DISC scale suggests that this council is composed of 5 decisive, take-action individuals (6 if you include me although I fell almost right on the line), and 1 more thoughtful person (DeLong). 

     It is likely that we, as a group, are going to want to be decisive.  I would argue that governmental bodies should favor a deliberative process over a decisive process. 

  • January 31 2013 at 8:24 pm
    kiffi summa

    I was not at the previous retreat with this facilitator, Jane... so can't comment on that specifically; but I would imagine I would have felt the same way.

  • January 31 2013 at 10:50 pm
    Jane McWilliams

    "much more helpful if we had talked more about where government should be on the DISC scale rather than where we are as individuals" ??? What do you mean, David? Help me see how DISC could apply to government.

  • February 2 2013 at 2:37 pm

    "The DISC scale suggests that this council is composed of 5 decisive, take-action individuals (6 if you include me although I fell almost right on the line), and 1 more thoughtful person (DeLong). " The above quote from David Ludescher's comment above... In my opinion, the only value in this DISC exercise , for this and the previous council, would be to recognize that they are not often deliberative ... although that's what they should be ... that they are tooo wont to each speak their piece, talking past each other repeatedly, and it is necessary to have a more thoughtful process which weighs pros and cons, AND cost-benefit analysis when appropriate. I must admit to being very disappointed in the quality of the conversation in the past two councils, and I hope that will not continue in the current one.

  • February 3 2013 at 9:38 am
    David Ludescher


    Kiffi has made my point.

    The DISC scale gave us a snapshot of how we perceive ourselves in our collective decision-making styles without providing us a clue as to what styles current officials SHOULD have.

    In my opinion, a legislative and judicial body (of which the council is both) should be more deliberative (thoughtful) than decisive.  And, it should base its decisions more on the facts than on the people involved.

    In practice, we don't have the time necessary to do our legislative job. So, we have to exercise our judicial role by passing judgment on proposals put forward by the executive branch (city staff). Thus, we shouldn't be so concerned about getting things done; we should be concerned about getting things done right.

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