City discusses inclusive planning group
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times,
LARGO -- City Manager Steven Stanton considers a longterm visioning and planning project for his city as an opportunity to redeem himself.
Stanton was hired by the city 11 years ago as an assistant to then-City Manager Stephen Bonczek to lead a similar process. A process that failed badly, for many reasons.
City commissioners didn't understand the need for strategic planning. City officials did not reach out to many community leaders. The reports that were put together by the Stanton-led committee were rarely used.
"Hopefully, I can have an opportunity to do it right this time," Stanton said.
Stanton will have his chance beginning today.
City commissioners are expected to discuss how they should go about the effort at a special work session before their commission meeting.
A memo by Community Development director Ric Goss suggested that the commission begin by creating a 20-member committee of "high profile" civic and community leaders to oversee the process.
"We're trying to be as inclusive as we can be to bring in as many stakeholders as possible," the city manager said Monday afternoon.
Marc Mansfield, president of the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce, likes the city's approach.
"I think that's really good," he said Monday. "It has to be across the board. Neighborhood groups, community leaders, CEOs, homeowners."
Chamber leaders appeared before the commission in late June, suggesting that Largo needed to do some longterm visioning because the city did not have a "brand identity." They said some business owners do not know much about the city or are unsure about its identity, which has made some reluctant to open offices in Largo.
Mansfield pointed to a recent St. Petersburg Times article asking readers "What is Largo?" as proof that the city lacks a clear identity.
"There wasn't one single factor that came across," he said.
Stanton also hopes to use the process to determine whether there is widespread community support for a new library or whether Largo should move forward with its annexation efforts.
Goss suggests in the memo that a facilitator be used to guide the committee. Stanton said other cities have spent $50,000 to $80,000 for a facilitator, but he had no idea how much Largo would have to spend.
Bob Delack said he doesn't want to sound pessimistic, but he is skeptical of this ambitious project.
Delack, president of the Largo Historical Society, served as vice chairman of the Stanton-led committee. He said he thinks it failed because Bonczek had done little groundwork to determine the needs of the community before engaging in such an effort. Delack said the process was driven by city officials, not the community.
"It's a popular management tool of the last 20 years, even though very few people truly understand it or how to apply it," he said of visioning efforts.
Delack suggested that in order for it to work this time, the city will need a broad range of people who have input that will be applied by commissioners.
"The process is only as good as the intentions behind it," he said.
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