by Dennis Dalman
A facilities-needs task force will soon start meeting for five times between now through December to try to determine what, if anything, St. Joseph should have for new amenities. Community center? New or refurbished city hall? Separate police station? Splash pad?
About 50 people attended an organizing facilities-needs meeting Oct. 13 at the St. Joseph Fire Hall. The meeting was led by Phil Barnes, a professional facilitator hired by the St. Joseph City Council at a cost of up to $6,000. Barnes is manager of WSB and Associates, Minneapolis. Also at the meeting, taking notes, was Kelsey Johnson, a municipal planner for WSB.
City council members and Mayor Rick Schultz were among the audience but did not take part in leading the meeting.
After a controversy last year about a city project, the city council decided to hire a facilitator to help ensure any future process dealing with proposed city facilities would be open, transparent, fair and objective. Last year, when the council proposed building a new city hall/police station with a community meeting room, many residents rose up in protest, claiming the council was not representing the wishes of the citizens, even though the council’s process had allowed for plenty of citizen input.
At several public meetings and via a petition signed by 900-plus residents, the public expressed its displeasure with the council’s proposal. Finally, the council decided to shelve its proposal and go back, this time with a professional facilitator, to the drawing board. Thus, the Oct. 13 meeting, which is the beginning of the new process.
Barnes assured the audience several times he is on board simply to facilitate the upcoming task-force meetings and he has no stake in whatever the people will decide.
At the Oct. 13 meeting, those present fired off many questions, and the tone of some of the questions reflected the skepticism and disagreements that had sprung up last year between vocal residents and the council. But, for the most part, all of the questions helped facilitator Barnes define and shape the form of future meetings.
The task force will comprise up to 20 – perhaps more – people that would include two council members, the mayor and 17 or so residents or stakeholders, such as business people who operate in St. Joseph but who may not live in the city.
Many people at the meeting signed up to be on the task force. A list of the members will be published once all who have expressed initial interest can commit to attending all five meetings. The meetings (venue not decided yet) will be public meetings, and audience members will be allowed to express their opinions or ask questions during the last 15 minutes of each two-hour meeting.
Notes will be taken during the meetings and then emailed or sent via postal mail to anyone who wants them.
Barnes outlined the processes for the meetings, as well as the qualities that make for good decision-making through collaboration: open-mindedness, ability to listen closely, defining goals and strategies, assessing risks and attacking problems – not people.
Barnes invited audience members to share their ideas about what makes for a good partnership. As they shouted out their answers, Barnes wrote them down: Openness and transparency, trust, patience, knowledge, expertise, respect, integrity, not being one-sided, a willingness to truly hear rather than just listen.
Barnes also asked the audience for any information that should be considered at upcoming facilities-needs meetings.
Some of the responses were the exact nature of the 23 variations the city council and committees had come up with when they last considered facilities, the specific needs of department heads, what money and money-constraints will the city have to deal with, a priority list of capital needs, citizen-defined needs based on the past, documentation of needs versus wants, up-to-date population projections and a study of demographics as the city grows into the future, the need to keep taxes the same or lower, a need to guard against special-interest groups taking over the process, and checking into possible alternatives for delivering city services.
Each of the upcoming task-force meetings will have specific agendas. First, members will come up with a Vision of Success, then they’ll sketch broad options for potential facilities, next those ideas will be specified and narrowed down. Risks will be discussed and finally strategies developed. After the five-meeting process, the task force will be expected to make recommendations to the city council sometime in early January.
In pondering the future for facilities needs, Barnes suggested the task-force members keep in mind a time frame of the next 10 years in the city.
photo by Dennis Dalman
Phil Barnes, a professional facilitator with WSB and Associates, listens to audience ideas, which he jots down on paper during a facilities-needs meeting Oct. 13 at the St. Joseph Fire Hall.
photo by Dennis Dalman
Phil Barnes, facilitator