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Seminole may tap popular sentiment

A $49,000 visioning program may decide a seminal question: What are our values and goals?

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 18, 2002


SEMINOLE -- Within the past few years, the city has built a recreation complex, beautified its major roads and renovated three parks.

Now what?

That's what city leaders want to know now that Seminole has finished checking off its to-do list. What better way to find out than to ask the people who live here?

The City Council is considering hiring the Florida Institute of Government to conduct a visioning program to help the city develop community values and a mission statement. Part of the $48,750 assignment includes a telephone survey of Seminole residents.

"I think the city is at a point now that we need to move cautiously forward, but with a good foundation," said City Manager Frank Edmunds, who suggested the visioning project to the council. "Those values and that mission statement will serve as the foundation for the future."

Council members say now is a good time for the city to take a breather since most of its capital projects have been completed. The library Seminole will share with St. Petersburg College is under construction and is scheduled to open next summer.

Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, would conduct the survey in October. Dr. Marc Rogoff, faculty administrator for the Florida Institute of Government at USF, and Virginia Harrell, director of the program, would compile and analyze the data. The council would discuss the survey's results, along with information from city staffers, at a two-day retreat in January.

"The survey may come back and say everything is fine and nothing needs to change, or it could come back with a list of problems," Rogoff said.

And that's fine because the city can focus its attention on those areas, Edmunds said.

Council member Patricia Hartstein likens the city's current condition to a buffet. "There are still a lot of things out there, but before we put any more things on our plate, we need to slow down and reflect on where we are with the growth of our city," she said.

Hartstein says the telephone survey would help the council do that. She says the cost of the project is worth it "when you consider what you're going to get and how it's going to impact the next five or 10 years."

That's the consensus of the Sarasota County Commission, which annually hires the Florida Institute of Government to conduct similar telephone surveys. Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley says the yearly surveys give the commissioners a good idea of how government is working. It's an opportunity for the commission to hear from the average person and not just from activists who attend government meetings, he said.

"It really is something my board looks forward to every year," Ley said of the survey. "It's just an annual temperature-taking."

Since 2000, Seminole has doubled in size and population through annexation. And it plans to grow more. Last week the council authorized the staff to mail invitations to 14,000 residents who live in unincorporated areas surrounding Seminole.

Council members say they want to make sure the city's services can keep pace with growth. They say the survey would give them an indication of how residents feel about annexation.

"I think it will be very good," said council member Carol Hajek, who moved here in 1957 and voted in 1970 for Seminole to become a city. "I think it will be a great thing to find out how everyone feels about a lot of things."

The council is scheduled to vote on the visioning project at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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