Public input sought for strategic plan

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Two strategic planning sessions of the Ridgecrest City Council resulted in the majority of the board voicing a wish to refashion the format to be more conducive to public participation and input.

The public is invited to attend the first workshop on Saturday, Oct. 26, starting at 9 a.m. The location has not yet been announced, but several members of the public, as well as some members of the council, requested a setting such as the Kerr McGee Center so that citizens and officials could interface in an informal setting. According to a spokesperson, that meeting will define the mission, vision and core values of the city.

City Manager Dennis Speer opened the session on Tuesday evening with a presentation on how strategic planning works. He cautioned the council against moving forward without actively seeking input from the city’s stakeholders — which include staff, residents and the business community.

Speer laid out a comprehensive process for outlining the city’s vision, mission, objectives and a strategic plan for achieving goals. He noted that past endeavors have yielded goals without the roadmap for implementation.

“Ask the community what are the critical requirements for success, and identify a way that you can successfully provide those services to the community,” said Speer.

During his presentation he encouraged the council to define goals that incorporate that public input, as well as a realistic assessment of assets and liabilities. He also cautioned the council against taking historical trends as the sole predictor of the future, given the changing nature of the economy, as well as state and federal impacts to local revenue streams.

Councilman Steven Morgan said that the city’s 2010 report from the last strategic planning workshops were not as comprehensive as some would like, “or strategically aligned with our community, as our city manager has stated.” But he said he believes the public has three priorities — police, streets and sewers.

Councilwoman Lori Acton said that she looks at the strategic plan as a living document, since the political dynamics change every two years at the city level. But she stressed a need for the city to keep moving forward. “We need definitive goals, and I don’t want to wait. I hate that everything keeps getting put off.”

Councilman Jim Sanders said that his basic concern was that the city went to great lengths to compose a plan that no one knows about, and has no path forward toward implementation.

“That is a long-term process,” said Speer. “Goals need to be developed, and those should not be set by council in a vacuum, which is the point I am trying to drive home. It should involve your customers — the citizens and stakeholders of this community.

“You didn’t participate in a goal-setting workshop then look at what is doable by staff. That’s why the process is important. Council should be there, but they need to be eye-to-eye with the customers.”

Mayor Dan Clark wrote a vision statement he offered for the council’s approval, saying he has been involved in many strategy workshops and believed it was best for a small group to outline the concept before gathering public input.

But the consensus was that was something that should be done without more public involvement. Sanders added that even starting with Clark’s draft could discourage ideas from being brought forward.

“I agree,” said Speer. “That seems to be what is lacking in previous workshops. We serve, that’s why we are here. We need to listen and respect the input of the people we serve.”

Those sentiments were echoed throughout public comment.

Among the specific ideas voiced by residents were addressing the public on an equal level, rather than from the dais. Others stressed the importance of fostering economic diversity, given the uncertainty of state and federal revenue streams.

Paul Vander Werf said that it was difficult for the public to intelligently comment when it had not yet had a chance to preview the documents the council has seen.

Mayor Dan Clark asked members of the council to approve a vision and mission statement that night.

“I think what you should really be talking about is not passing a mission statement, but how to be more inclusive,” said Jerry Taylor. He noted that outside of members of staff and the media, very few citizens were in attendance. “When we went through this process before we had a lot more people involved than you have now.”

Sanders and Acton agreed that they were not comfortable drafting mission and vision statements that night.

Morgan suggested the city host a booth at the fair, where the council could place jars representing priorities and distribute a smaller number of pennies for visitors to put in the jars of what was important to them. “I can guarantee that will give you a good idea about where people’s priorities are.”

The council revisited the discussion the following night at the regular council meeting. The majority agreed that the city should move forward in seeking additional public input before voting on anything.

Story First Published: 2013-10-09