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Council Retreat Focuses on Getting Along

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By Jorge Casuso

June 25, 2022 -- "Can we all just get along?" Rodney King asked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

His famous plea was echoed recently during the Santa Monica City Council's first retreat since the coronavirus shutdown, where five of the seven members met together in person for the fist time on March 22.

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Divided by policy differences, personal dislike and what one Councilmember called "COVID crankiness," Councilmembers tried to iron out the tensions that had surfaced during virtual meetings attended from home.

Based on a report posted on the Council's Website Wednesday, the 3-hour session at the Annenberg Community Beach House resembled more of a group counseling session than a traditional Council retreat focused on policy priorities.

Facilitated by Dr. Yolanda Gorman -- who has a B.A. and Ph.D in psychology with a minor in clinical psychology and psychiatry -- the session placed an unusual focus on improving "the interpersonal relationships of the members," according to the report.

"Each Councilmember acknowledged that in addition to differing points of view, the COVID-19 pandemic limited opportunities to build trust," Gorman wrote in a summary of the meeting.

"For multiple Councilmembers developing professional norms and interpersonal relationships were thwarted as they started their tenure when the City was exclusively conducting business remotely."

The Council seemed to agree on the most pressing issues facing the City -- homelessness, crime, and public safety and economic recovery -- but differences were also highlighted.

"A few of the Councilmembers spoke about the tension in the city around commercial development and the need for affordable housing," according to Gorman's summary.

"Others spoke about the impact of layoffs of several city staff and the departure of the prior City Manager, City Attorney, and the Chief of Police.

"The issues compounded by what one Councilmember referred to as 'COVID crankiness' contributed to tensions in the City that get played out on the dais of the City Council," Gorman wrote.

Asked what they hope to get out of the retreat, Councilmembers answered, "being able to see the humanity in each other” and recognizing that people and different perspectives have value.

They also mentioned “agreeing to disagree" and "deepening, growing, strengthening our relationships,” Gorman wrote.

Among the expectations the Coucnilmembers discussed were "respecting ideas and valuing diverse views," "building trust and becoming less adversarial" and "building authentic confidence in each other."

"Each Councilmember acknowledged they did not need to agree on specific issues but could create a culture that allowed each perspective to be heard and considered during their deliberations," Gorman wrote in her meeting summary.

During the meeting, the Council members focused on finding ways to make their meetings run shorter and more smoothly by changing some of the processes, rules and regulations.

Last Tuesday, the Council approved some of those changes ("Council Approves Hybrid Meetings, Rule Changes," June 22, 2022).

At the retreat, Councilmembers also discussed "seating order" at meetings, which is determined by the City Clerk drawing lots.

"Even though seating order is defined as being assigned once after elections, interest in reassigning seats was also discussed to help reestablish relationships," Gorman wrote in her summary.

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