Town Hall meetings planned to develop city strategic plan
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 21, 2013, 10:44
With a new year beginning, Hopewell City Council looked to the future with its first work session.
The meeting concerned devising a plan for that future; a plan that council hopes will include the opinions of the residents of Hopewell.
Vice-Mayor Jasmine Gore suggested including the input of residents in a strategic plan that will establish a guide map for the city’s progress. She said collecting residents’ input would help council craft a plan matching the needs and desires of the people who live in Hopewell.
“I am proposing that we do town hall meetings in conjunction with possibly sending out a flyer to all the residents to ask them, basically, what are two or three goals they would like to see,” Gore said.
The city’s strategic plan is tied to its budget, which council will be hammering out in a number of work sessions on in the coming weeks.
The city also welcomes public participation in the budget process, structuring it to allow comments from residents.
“The process is structured to allow and encourage residents to voice their opinions about the services the City should provide to its citizens,” the city’s website says.
Gore also wants to seek input from the boards and commissions in the city to find out what they plan for the coming years.
“All boards that are planning different things in their areas, have them come sit down with us once we get the citizens’ feedback and try to get a better picture of what’s all being planned in the city and what people would like,” Gore said. “And take that information, meet with directors and get some feedback from them to help us figure out what’s feasible and what can be done.”
The timeline for the town hall meetings and the meetings with the different boards, commissions and directors in the city was a subject of debate among council, which will use the strategic plan to balance what is needed in the city against available resources.
“The timeframe kind of bothers me because of the way we put things together,” said councilor Wayne Walton.
Gore agreed that there is only a short amount of time before the budget must be completed in June, but said she was optimistic that the city would be able to get some feedback. She said the city needs to develop a plan and hold itself to it.
“We can do something and stick to it,” Gore said. “And not just say we’re going to plan, and two months down the road say we’re going to plan and six months down the road not coming to the drawing board at all.”
Councilor Jackie Shornak said she wanted to make sure feedback was transferred into a clear plan.
“I want to make sure that we’re not just hearing the citizens and not doing anything about it,” Shornak said. “I don’t want to tell my Ward, you’re coming to town and we’re going to leave you high and dry.”
Dr. Edwin Daley, City Manager, told council that while developing a plan with feedback would be feasible and relatively inexpensive, he too was concerned by the timeframe.
“The three months is a very short window for something like this,” Daley said. “I had thought we were talking about that we were going to do this in preparation for a year from now.”
Daley recommended that council establish a timeline to mirror the real estate assessment for the city, which also coincides with the budget; the real estate values will come back to the city in March, real estate will be set in April and tax bills will begin to be mailed out to residents in May.
Daley said to complete a plan to the degree that is being proposed and the amount of time that will be needed, the plan should be written not for the year, but for next few years.
“What you’re saying is look at where [the residents] want us to go. Iif that’s the case, then it takes several years,” Daley said. “It took us a long time to get here.”
Christina Luman-Bailey said that it would be possible to have two town hall meetings before the upcoming budget is voted on, even if it is a “skeleton” plan.
“A good way to get a feeling about the budget is to have town hall meetings,” Bailey said. “Not just regular council meetings, actual town hall meetings where you talk about the budget...It would just be the basics. We can’t come up with a long term plan that quickly, but it’s certainly worth doing.”
Councilor Roosevelt Edwards was not completely sold on the idea to hold town hall meetings and questioned whether or not it would be worth the time of council and the residents of the city.
“We have to come together as a council before I ever participate in something like this,” Edwards said. “To actually help out, we have to participate together collectively too, number one, gain the confidence of our citizens. Right now they’re not showing up because they don’t care for the city, trust me. They’re not showing up because they don’t have confidence in local government, and until we can come together and show them that, hey, we can make good decisions when we have works sessions and council meetings, town hall meetings is just another meeting for us to sit back there and listen and not change nothing.”
The council also discussed sending out a short survey containing a few questions regarding changes residents want to see in the city. Councilor Brenda Pelham suggested making the survey electronic and putting it on the city’s Facebook account or website.
“A lot of surveys don’t come back,” Pelham said.
“If we send out 5,000 surveys and get 20 percent back, that’s more than you’re going to get at town hall meetings,” Mayor Mike Bujakowski said.
Regardless of the medium in which the residents’ voices are heard, Gore said devising a strategic plan and conducting town hall meetings and a survey will be necessary to move forward in the years ahead.
“This holds us accountable for what the majority wants,” Gore said. “...We want to show them [the residents] that at least we’re trying to pinpoint and to be better. W we do have to have that conversation. At least reach out to the community and try to do this.”
The council tentatively decided to hold two town hall meetings, one in Feb. and one in March.