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City works on strategic plan

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council and city department heads are laying the groundwork for a strategic plan intended to guide employees, supervisors and officials toward a common vision for the next three years.

The strategic plan is the main topic of discussion at the council's retreat that was held Wednesday through Friday at the FFA-FCCLA Center.

Facilitators Frank and Alysin Foster with the Centre for Strategic Management in Conyers focused much of their presentation on learning how to work together toward shared goals and identifying key components and stakeholders of the plan, which will be created by city supervisors and officials in the coming months.

Topics included how to keep communication flowing; having a clear understanding of the role of officials, managers and employees when it comes to implementing the plan; and making sure stakeholders are involved and informed.

Wednesday afternoon, the mayor and City Council took a two-hour tour of Covington, including, among others, the neighborhoods of Nelson Heights, Walker's Bend and Covington Mill, as well as commercial and industrial districts. After the tour, they were asked to share their observations. Council members noted the large amount of substandard housing; lack of greenspace; high number of vacant and boarded buildings; lack of retail; and lack of transportation options, as several people were observed walking the streets in the rain.

On the flip side, they also remarked on improvements to streets and sidewalks and the thriving downtown district, which was full of cars mid-afternoon.

The council was asked on Thursday to identify what residents, businesses and visitors need from them as leaders. Answers included: consistency in availability and response to concerns; decisiveness; compassion and sensitivity; providing solutions; giving an explanation if a solution cannot be provided; unity; and to feel heard.

The council was also asked to express what they need from each other to be a successful part of the city's team.

Councilman Chris Smith said more information is needed prior to meetings to allow more time for review. Councilwoman Janet Goodman commented that if an item up for approval has already been budgeted, it should be approved unless there is a major issue that needs to be discussed. Councilman Keith Dalton requested that in the future, items that are already budgeted be so noted in the council's packet.

In addition to procedural issues, some of the discussion turned to personal feelings. Both Councilman Mike Whatley and Mayor Kim Carter asked that council members call them if they are in disagreement over a vote or statement they've made rather than going to the media with their concerns.

Williams said it's unfair to speak out against other council members in any public setting.

"We are a team and we can't just divide and conquer and alienate each other because of the way somebody votes," she said. Williams added that certain council members are alienated for voting differently from their counterparts.

"It's very obvious camaraderie exists in the group because of the way people are voting," she said.

Smith requested that once discussion and a vote have occurred or a motion is about to fail for lack of a second, the issue should be put to bed. He referenced a recent council meeting when Carter asked for rationale when the council opted not to pursue a grant for construction of a trail system along right of way of a rail line that would have required a more than $200,000 match from the city.

Carter said that she was surprised at the dissent given that the trail system was included as part of the city's comprehensive plan that was adopted in 2007.

Williams, who voted against the grant, noted that economic conditions and other factors must be considered in addition to plans and studies that have outlined goals for the future.

"Circumstances change and that merits looking at things differently. Even though we're looking at the future, sometimes we have to look at circumstances as they are presented to you," she said.

Smith said that he did not have enough background information on the project to vote yes; it was agreed that the council should be familiar with the comprehensive plan and other key documents and be notified when an issue comes up that is addressed in those documents.

Later in the day, along with seven department heads and City Manager Steve Horton, the council came up with a list of about 50 accomplishments achieved by the city during the last three years.

"I'm extremely proud of this. I think we need to remember this when all we hear about is the negative. These are some good accomplishments, gang," Carter said.

But most agreed residents would be hard pressed to come up with as many and they need to do a better job of educating the citizenry about the city's accomplishments and work on their behalf.

Friday's discussion could not be reported by press time. More coverage of the retreat will be included in upcoming editions of the Citizen.