It was a kinder, gentler meeting of the Lawrence City Commission.
Commissioners sat around a table Friday afternoon at the Lawrence Country Club and Â putting aside the details of roundabouts, floodplains and fireworks for the moment Â contemplated what they wanted their work to mean for the city.
Under the guidance of Carol Nalbandian, a management consultant and wife of former Mayor John Nalbandian, the commissioners shared with each other their hopes and fears for the community.
It was, Mayor Sue Hack acknowledged later, a bit more touchy-feely than commissioners usually get.
"But you know what?" she said. "We never get a chance to sit and talk to each other, and that's an important part of how we do our jobs."
The commission retreat, which continues at 9 a.m. today at Lawrence Municipal Airport, has potentially important consequences for the community.
It was at a similar goal-setting session last year that commissioners said they wanted to initiate floodplain development regulations; the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission meets Wednesday to decide whether it likes the proposed rules that came out of that process.
The goal-setting session is different this year, however. For one, it's taking place during two days instead of one intense morning of brainstorming, like last year. And in 2001, City Manager Mike Wildgen and his aides assisted the process. Hack invited Nalbandian to guide this year's session, she said, to bring in some outside objectivity.
"I thought it would be good for us to have someone who's not a part of the staff pull us together," Hack said.
But after a year in which the commission gave Wildgen six months to make city government more "user friendly," it was also notable that one of Nalbandian's stated goals for the session was to "identify and solve concerns with communication within the commission and with staff."
Wildgen and assistant city managers Dave Corliss and Debbie Van Saun participated in Friday's meeting, also describing their hopes and fears for the community.
Several themes emerged from the discussion. Officials said they were interested in continuing community involvement in governmental processes, promoting economic development and environmental concerns, fostering diversity and civility in the city, planning growth and helping Lawrence thrive during difficult economic times.
Those ideas will be meaningful when the commission gathers today to articulate its goals for the next year, Nalbandian said.
Commissioners praised the new approach to goal-setting.
"To me, this brings a lot of structure to the goal-setting session," Commissioner Jim Henry said. "It's the best we've had."