Aldermen give advice to new council members

Left to Right: Justin Tennant, Rhonda Adams, Matthew Petty, Brenda Thiel, Adella Gray (Photo: Todd Gill)

A group of Fayetteville City Council members and city staff spent a good portion of the day on Wednesday prepping aldermen-elect Rhonda Adams, Mark Kinion and Justin Tennant on the duties of serving on the council.

After hearing from various department leaders, the three new council members listened to a panel comprised of four incumbent aldermen: Bobby Ferrel, Adella Gray, Matthew Petty, and Brenda Thiel. The city’s Chief of Staff Don Marr moderated the panel which included five questions intended to help ease the upcoming officials into their new roles.

When they’re sworn in on January 4, Adams will replace Shirley Lucas (Ward 4), Kinion will replace Kyle Cook (Ward 2), and Tennant will replace Robert Rhoads (Ward 3).

Below are the questions and some of the answers from the moderated panel.

How can the new members prepare for their first council meeting?

Brenda Thiel: Come to the meetings prepared. “I think it’s really important that you always study what you have in your [agenda] packet.”
Adella Gray: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
Bobby Ferrell: Visit with other aldermen to broaden your view. “Remember the old church saying: When you sit at the same pew with the same people, you get the same advice.”
Matthew Petty: Don’t be afraid to give your opinion. “We have disagreements and that’s what the meetings are for, to build consensus and find a common ground around those disagreements. We can’t do that unless we know what each other are thinking.”

What do you wish you knew before you first tried to propose (or fight) an ordinance?

Matthew Petty: Start with the Ordinance Review Committee for help making necessary tweaks before presenting an ordinance to the council.
Brenda Thiel and Adella Gray: Visit with City Attorney Kit Williams. “He’s a resource we have here that’s invaluable,” said Thiel. “Mine is two words and they are ‘Kit Williams,'” said Gray.
Bobby Ferrell: Use the City Clerk’s office and city staff. “I find it helpful to bounce [a proposed ordinance] off of them and see if they have ideas to amend it.”

What is a characteristic or trait of a good alderman?

All: Listening to residents and having conversations with them. “I get told all the time that people don’t agree with my thoughts on a certain subject, but they’re extremely thankful that I’m out there talking to them and letting them know what I think,” said Petty.

What is a good way to get feedback from constituents?

Brenda Thiel and Adella Gray: Have ward meetings. “It’s important to have [ward meetings] in the ward and not in City Hall,” said Gray. “That’s the single most important thing to having a successful ward meeting.”
Bobby Ferrell: Stakeholders will approach you. “If something’s divisive, you don’t have to solicit feedback, you’re going to get it.”
Matthew Petty: Utilize the internet to give your detailed opinions and specific responses. Don’t just rely on interviews with traditional media.

How do you maintain a good relationship with council members you disagree with?

Matthew Petty: Communicate and give them the benefit of the doubt. “Even if it’s a casual conversation, being able to give each other a little insight into what each other was thinking is always helpful.”
Adella Gray: Be friendly and cordial.
Brenda Thiel and Bobby Ferrell: Understand that we’re all in this together. “Everyone’s doing the best they can to serve everybody and that’s all we can do.”