The Truckee Way

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The Truckee Way

Many governmental agencies have mission or values statements. Few actually use them once created, only a very few actually apply them on a daily basis. Truckee is one of the few, an accomplishment of which it can be justifiably proud.

In the fourteen years since the voters of Truckee brought the Town to life a set of operating principles known colloquially as “The Truckee Way” has evolved. It is against these principles that the Town measures the effectiveness of its operations and evaluates success or failure in dealing with everyday issues and challenges.

The Truckee Mission Statement can be summarized as:

Creating the best future for our community requires the highest level of public service – every day. We will accomplish that in partnership with the Town’s citizens and our fellow governmental agencies.

We will treat everyone, and their point of view, with respect, courtesy, and fairness. We will approach issues with creativity and innovation. We will conduct ourselves, and the Town’s business, according to high ethical standards. We will encourage the free exchange of ideas and information by open and honest communication. We believe that non-adversarial dispute resolution result in effective community and employee involvement in the Town and its future.

Mission statements are, of course, much easier to write than to apply on a daily basis. Implementing and embedding them as organizational values is the overriding challenge. Doing so often proves impossible for some governmental organizations. Why has Truckee (at least so far) succeeded where many have failed? Some, but certainly not all, of the reasons are:

Sense of Place – The Town and the community it serves are united in the desire to protect
and preserve the historic downtown as the heart and soul of a special place. They are equally united in the desire to preserve and protect the environment and quality of life which makes Truckee an attractive place to live and visit. These shared values shape, and frequently control the establishment of Town policies and their related actions.

Clear Priorities – When the Town incorporated the voters made it clear that they desired a different approach to roads, law enforcement, and land use planning. A lot of hard work and an expanding economic base have combined to fulfill those priorities. That record of accomplishment, although certainly not without its difficult moments, has created an organization and community which believes it can accomplish what it sets out to do. Establishing clear priorities continues today, with annual Council workshops and an aggressive ongoing community outreach and communication effort.

No Surprises – Everyone working for the Town is committed to a “No Surprises” policy. An early warning of potential problems or upcoming crisis is mandatory.

Community Outreach and Involvement – Although it may be a cliché to some, the Town views itself as part of a larger family which makes up the community. Beyond the customary Town duties, when a significant community concern exists the Town believes its role is to reach out and actively engage all parts of the community in considering and, if possible, dealing successfully with that concern using the techniques that are outlined below. Exactly what concerns may arise in the future and the ability of the Town to assist in resolving them cannot be known or predicted. It is the commitment to do so whenever the need arises that distinguishes Truckee.

Non Adversarial Decision Making - All governmental agencies have a decision making style ranging from autocrat to paralysis by analysis. The Truckee Way largely uses a decision making process modeled on the book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fischer and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Truckee’s adaptation of those principles means the typical decision making protocols on significant issues goes something like this:

  • An individual or team is created to research the issue, develop an understanding of it, and see if other organizations have or are currently facing the same issues.
  • Once the boundaries of the issue have been determined, the likely interested parties are identified and contact is made to determine their point of view and interest in seeking solutions.
  • If Town Council approval is legally required before a decision can be made the Town Council is briefed on the issue and approval is sought to begin an issue resolution process. At that point a decision is made whether this issue is or should be a priority to which Town resources should be devoted and what the impact of the decision will be on other already established priorities.

When the issue resolution process is begun, the participants must agree to: 

  1. Separate the people from the problem – no personal attacks or assignment of blame. 
  2. Focus on the interests of those involved, not positions they may have taken - the process will not have a win/lose outcome. 
  3. Invent options for mutual gain – initially nothing is off the table or will not be considered. 
  4. Use objective criteria to create and measure potential options and solutions –emotions and previous baggage must be left at the door for the process to succeed.  
  5. Seek first to understand, then speak to be understood – listen actively, communicate openly and transparently. 
  6. Solutions are built upon establishing trust and working relationships between interested (and sometimes hostile) participants.

As with any dispute resolution mechanism, applying these principles does not always work. It is, however, to be generally preferred over the other alternatives available to the Town. Applying the Truckee Way is not easy and requires constant commitment and effort.  The rewards to date for both the Town and the community have proven well worth the cost. The purpose of this memo is to keep the memory and techniques of that success alive for future Council Members, Commissioners, and Town Employees.

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