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Monday, September 19, 2011

Council Wars and Power Plays: How to Avoid Them and How to Survive Them

At the Illinois Municipal League’s recent annual conference, we presented the above-titled session to a packed audience of local government officials. Our prepared Q&A described hypothetical disputes and suggestions for resolution of each dispute.  Our intention was to provide tools for those rare communities where every issue turns into a conflict, misunderstanding, irrational debate, and in some cases, a lawsuit.  We made it through only three questions before the flood gates opened, and audience members presented us with their real-life disputes.  It seems as if the rare has become the commonplace, and many communities are encountering some form of council wars. 

Everyone agrees that governments and public officials function better when peace prevails.  While there is no prescription that can miraculously cure a case of council wars, there are a few techniques that might diminish their impact:

1.   Don’t confront people at board meetings with information or allegations that they could have been furnished prior to the meeting.

2.   If you really have a question to ask, wait for a real answer.

3.   Don’t reject ideas you didn’t think of first.

4.   Use an egg-timer to delay immediately sending nasty e-mails.

5.   Write out and read your response to controversial issues and give copies of your carefully-crafted words to the press. 

6.   Really, really listen to compromise suggestions.  At rare and golden moments, be willing to admit that your previously held position might have been incorrect.  Remember Mark Twain’s quote, “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world – and never will.”

7.   Praise your natural opponent when that individual surprises you with a cogent idea or well thought-out position. 

8.   Try to creatively expand your power base.

9.   Don’t let anger or sarcasm use you.

10.  Listen to suggestions from people you respect.

11. Crush your opponent only when to do so really helps your cause, and when you can actually accomplish the crushing effectively.  This last technique is presented somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but can be compared to the often-used parenting tool -- “pick your battles.” 

To learn more about this session, and for a copy of our handout and PowerPoint materials, visit our website at www.ancelglink.com.


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