Council finds consensus at planning session

Marianne Gillespie
mgillespie@timestoday.com

Chillicothe officials put their heads together Saturday to find common ground in what are the city's pressing issues and what direction to take next.

The Chillicothe City Council met for an all-morning strategic planning session at the Chillicothe Public Library. Alderman Mike Hughes was absent and also in attendance were City Clerk Sharon Crabel, Office Manager Denise Passage and City Attorney Mike Seghetti.

Mayor Doug Crew briefed the aldermen on the pre-planning session work. Each alderman submitted their top five priorities, along with one thing he or she wanted to change and one thing to preserve. Additionally, the department heads, city clerk and city treasurer submitted their lists, as well as the Chillicothe Plan Commission and those attending the monthly city business connection meetings.

Crew acknowledged from the onset that he hoped to prioritize the urgent city items, along with the important issues.

"That may mean we have to do some things different," Crew said of the outcome. He also cautioned them that changing for the sake of change was not good either.

The submissions were grouped into similar ideas and taped to a wall to help the aldermen and mayor vote on what they thought was the most important items.

When the officials were asked by independent consultant Ken Dawson to introduce themselves and give him a little information about themselves, most said their goal for the day was to find commonality and unity from the event.

Dawson asked the officials to perform two team-building exercises during the morning, which not only made them work together in two groups, but also sparked them to think outside the box.

To begin the morning, Dawson presented them with a quiz on basic demographics on Chillicothe and asked them eight questions based on forecasting tools such as the U.S. Census Bureau. For example, one question's answer was that the city's population is expected to decline slightly.

Armed with information about Chillicothe's expected population and other trends, Dawson walked the officials through the five steps of strategic planning, including the analysis of the area, the vision of the city, creating a "roadmap" of top priorities and action plans, implementing the plans and governing the targets.

Dawson went through each group's list of priorities. Each had their own priorities dealing with their functions.

For example, the Plan Commission's list included updating the comprehensive plan, annexing available property, adopting a building code and sign ordinance and completing the viaduct project including extending city services.

The five department heads' lists, which were combined, included projects specific to each of their departments but also general topics, such as identifying areas for residential growth and implementing a citywide cleanup.

The city officials' priorities included things such as preserving the "small town feel," city beautification, infrastructure issues, revitalizing downtown, watching for possible gravel pits to the west, considering hiring a city manager and more.

The business group's information included a quick analysis of the city's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Asian carp made both the opportunity and threat categories. Opportunities included fish farming and recreation ideas.

The ideas, including some implications from what officials heard during the session which they wrote on notes and attached to the wall, were then grouped into common themes.

The nine themes that emerged were:

• Find ways to grow (residential) and infrastructure

• Grow through commercial development

• Improve/grow recreational assets

• Improve city government processes and facilities

• Continue to enhance public safety services

• Expand/improve city infrastructure to support future growth

• Create better image/perception of community and community involvement

• Leverage small town atmosphere/environment

• And weed to make city more appealing (clean up and beautify).

Aldermen and the mayor then voted through placing colored stickers on the overall themes on the wall.

The top items ended up with improving/growing residential and recreational assets, expanding/improving city infrastructure to support future growth and making the city more appealing and beautifying it.

"There wasn't anything on this list that came as a big shock," Crew said.

The key is that the session helped the council to "define" what they should focus on with limited time and resources, Crew added.

The work does not stop with identifying the officials' priorities.

"We will assign this to a committee or committees and keep it on the agenda," Crew said.

The officials will figure out which of the existing city committees those items should be underneath and develop plans.

Crew also added on Monday that two items are already in the works that fall under the top priorities.

A community open house for realtors is scheduled later in October for them to check out what Chillicothe has to offer in terms of both existing and new housing, as well as the school system and other activities.

Additionally, a spring cleanup is being planned as the police chief will work up specifics on areas needed to be cleaned up, including both private and public lands, Crew said.

For more information about strategic planning session, see the mayor's message on the city's website at www.cityofchillicotheil.com.