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Stiehm, Clennon spar at council retreat

Marian Clennon feels like the odd city council member out.

“We have seven council members, and I don’t know if anyone else feels excluded, but I sure do,” Clennon said Tuesday at the second night of the Austin City Council retreat.

The comment spurred a wave of criticism from Mayor Tom Stiehm and an at-times tense discussion among the whole council.

Council members were having a conversation about their organizational values, one of which is to work as a team and make decisions collectively, when Clennon first mentioned feeling excluded. She said she wants to see the group employ more teamwork in 2012; however, Stiehm said he thinks Clennon excludes herself by voting against the group and disagreeing with the majority’s viewpoints.

“My concerns are when you bring up an idea and the rest of the group doesn’t accept it, then you shut down everything,” Stiehm said. “There’s just no consistency. It’s not that you vote against it, it’s the rationale that you use for voting against it.”

Other council members chimed in to clarify some of the points. Council member-at-large Janet Anderson said Clennon could voice her reasoning for voting against something, which might sway some of the other council members.

Jeff Austin agreed, saying it’s hard to understand where Clennon is coming from sometimes.

“A lot of times, you vote no and we have no understanding. If you’d express your opinion, we’d have more of an appreciation for where you’re coming from or why you’re voting no,” Austin said. “Don’t expect us to understand, and don’t expect us to sway to your opinion (if you don’t give reasoning).”

Stiehm said Clennon’s alleged lack of consistency is part of why he hasn’t appointed her to many committees, although she has asked several times to be more active on committees.

“You want to overturn basically everything we’re doing … and I don’t need someone on committees that’s saying, ‘We need to do everything different,’” Stiehm said.

Clennon disagreed, though, and said she is entitled to her opinion and her vote. Diverse views are important to foster fresh ideas, she said.

“I have my own personal opinions on things, and I’m allowed to do that,” she said. “I would like to have a diverse knowledge of what’s going on. I would want to change committees every two years to see something different.”

Clennon said many of her dissenting votes have been cast because of feedback from her constituents. However, Stiehm said he assumed Clennon cast dissenting votes if the majority of the council had previously disagreed with her ideas on the topic up for a vote.

“My assumption was because we didn’t accept your ideas immediately, you weren’t going to vote for it,” he said. “We have to retain the ability to work together when somebody votes against you on something.”

Stiehm, who had taken an argumentative tone, went on to say Clennon turns council issues into something personal.

“I’ve seen you disrespect people more than you’ve been disrespected,” he said. “That’s what I’ve seen, and I know I’m not by myself. It seems like you make everything personal.”

The conversation came to a seemingly abrupt end soon after council member Steve King jumped in to say Clennon simply has a different style than some of the other council members.

King told Clennon nobody means to exclude her, and part of the council divide is likely caused by a difference in leadership styles.

Stiehm wrapped up the conversation by vowing to make an effort to be more inclusive.

“We will make an effort. Everybody can make an effort to be more inclusive,” he said. “I know I can do better.”