Council completes planning retreat

COVINGTON -- The City Council completed its three-day Strategic Planning Retreat on Tuesday, ready to turn over the process to a planning and implementation team that will formulate the document by year's end.

The strategic plan will set a long-range vision for the city as well as define a three-year mission statement and action plan for the city as a whole and individual departments.

Council members were asked by facilitators Frank and Alysin Foster of the Centre for Strategic Management in Conyers to begin to formulate a long-range vision statement. They were instructed to imagine they had overheard conversations about the city by long-term residents, newcomers, tourists who visit annually and venture capitalists looking to make an investment in Covington. They then took what they imagined they would hear and trimmed it down based on certain criteria to get a foundation for a vision statement that will be turned over to an implementation and planning team consisting of city department heads and others.

The team will further refine the statement and develop a strategic plan during the course of the next three to four months. The council has identified key stakeholders in the plan as residents, customers, property owners, businesses and industries. Once complete, the plan will be evaluated yearly and key stakeholders will be polled to make sure the city is on track with its goals.

The council also discussed its working relationship as a team, with some agreeing that progress has been made while others said they don't see an improvement. They reviewed the roles and responsibilities of the council, mayor, city manager and staff and the city charter.

City Manager Steve Horton brought up several issues, including whether the city wants to continue on with the Leadership Collaborative or scale back its involvement. Horton said the city has budgeted about $42,000 during the last two years for work done by The Center regarding the collaborative and its committees.

The city, county, Water and Sewerage Authority and the city of Oxford contribute financially to the collaborative, although other entities participate.

Agenda items are often repeated and little action is being taken during committee meetings, Councilman Chris Smith said. Councilman Mike Whatley agreed.

"I've seen it all but come to a halt. It's gotten to the point that after we adopted the 2050 Buildout Plan, it's gotten stagnant," he said.

Mayor Kim Carter suggested a sit down meeting with other participants to get input on restructuring the collaborative.

"The intent is fine and it's certainly done great work during the last six years but it's kind of hit a bit of a plateau," she said.

In other news, the city has yet to hear back from the county on a request for a joint meeting to discuss the city taking over the full cost and operations of Main Street Covington. The city is proposing to pay the total cost of the director's salary and office expenses. The director would report directly to the city manager and the Main Street Board would remain intact and operate under a contractual agreement. Officials said they are still hoping to have a meeting with the county to hash out details.

The council also agreed to formulate a succession plan to fill the city manager's position.

From a strategic planning perspective, Carter said she would consider getting someone in place who could be groomed to fill the position when Horton retires.

Smith said there needs to be a "number two" person under Horton, to assist with duties, and that could be someone already employed by the city. That person may or may not be hired when Horton leaves, he said.

Horton has not indicated any immediate plans to retire, but agreed a succession plan is wise.

Finally, Horton told the council that once again, the airport FBO is out of fuel. One of the airport's largest customers was unable to get fuel on Tuesday, Horton said. The FBO operator promised fuel would be available today.

The council has had numerous discussions in recent months about terminating the FBO's contract early in light of complaints regarding lack of fuel and other matters. It agreed recently to keep the contract in place, but warned the contract must be adhered to strictly, including having an adequate supply of fuel.

"We gave them the benefit of the doubt, but it's very clear fuel has to be there. If there not going to do what they say they're gong to do, I've got a real problem with it," Smith said.

The council will meet today at City Hall at noon for a work session regarding its parking ordinance and is expected to receive an update on the FBO at that time.