How to Read a City Council Staff Report

Virtually every agenda item and action taken by the City Council is first explained to them (and the public) via a written staff report.

When you go to the City’s web site and pull up an agenda – you can click on any agenda item link to bring up a portable document format (PDF) of that item’s staff report.  Depending on what type of computer or tablet you are using you may need to download Adobe Reader.

Staff reports come in a standard format and once you know the purpose of each section you can effectively speed read the report or take shortcuts to the information that interests you.  You can sometimes tell when a Council member has not read the full report by the questions they ask staff.  Questions that are clearly answered in the report. Yes – I was occasionally guilty of this practice too.

Subject

The Subject line of the staff report almost always matches the agenda description of the item.  In case you miss the agenda item number normally found in the upper right hand corner of the staff report.

Report in Brief

The Report in Brief is the concise (should be concise) summary of what the report is about and staff’s recommendation for action.

Background

The Background is the section that puts the issue or decision in context.  Why did this issue come up in the first place?  Why is it important or, rather, who thinks it is important?

Discussion

The Discussion section explains the rationale or thought process that led to the staff’s recommendation.  It may also explain the opinions expressed by various community stakeholders about the issue.  Ultimately this section should also describe any options that were considered and explain why (on what basis) they were rejected in favor of the staff’s recommendation.

Fiscal Impact

The Fiscal Impact is the section that explains both the near term (this year) and long term (10 years to forever) impact the staff’s recommendation will have on the City’s budget.  It should also explain who is paying for the recommendation if the City is not or if the City is being reimbursed by another party.

Public Contact

Certain issues that come before the Council have specific public noticing requirements found in State law.  Other matters are expected to follow the general public noticing requirements.  This section explains what public contact efforts were made by staff prior to bringing the issue and recommendation to Council.

Signatories/Attachments

A staff report is normally prepared by the appropriate department head and reviewed by the City Attorney and ultimately signed by the City Manager.  If you have questions about a staff report you will find the email addresses of the staff members who prepared or reviewed it in their signatures – you should direct any question you have to them.

Most staff reports also include attachments.  Council actions are normally taken through the adoption of a resolution or an ordinance which would be the first attachment.  Subsequent attachments might be communications from community stakeholders or other government agencies; or documents that further clarify concepts referenced in the staff report.

Reading staff reports are a good way to quickly get up to speed on the issue.  That’s why I encourage everyone to Learn More by reading them when I write about city issues.

Is there anything else you would be interested in learning about Concord City Government?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.

I’m a former Mayor, City Council member and Planning Commissioner who has lived in the City of Concord since 1989. I have a BA in Government from CSU Sacramento. My entire career has been spent explaining business realities to public officials and political realities to business leaders.