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Visioning groups beckon citizens

Topic groups seek people’s perspectives on the city’s future.
Monday, January 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:06 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joining one of 13 citizen topic groups that will be formed during a Jan. 17 kickoff meeting is one of the best ways to speak out on a vision for Columbia’s future, members of the Columbia Vision Committee suggest.

Working with a total of 1,510 ideas generated by the hundreds of people who attended the Big Idea Gathering meetings during the fall, and with input gathered from surveys and Fall Vision Festivals, ACP Visioning and Planning has created a list of 13 general topics — including development, arts and culture, downtown and transportation — that the new groups will address individually.

City spokeswoman Toni Messina said interest in serving is already high. “Between 250 and 300 people have indicated an interest in volunteering for citizen topic groups,” Messina said.

Jennifer Lindbom, a consultant with ACP, called that “a fantastic number.” She expects 20 to 40 people with diverse perspectives and expertise to serve on each group.

Retiree Nancy Bedan, 57, is one such volunteer. As a past president of the Missouri Symphony Society Board of Directors, she is interested in joining the arts and culture group. She said the job would be “an excellent investment of her time.”

“I am just very interested in sitting down with people who are interested in the topic that I am and really getting down to the ideas about how we can make things happen in the community,” Bedan said.

The city has sent about 500 invitations during the past two weeks to those who have indicated an interest through surveys, at meetings or in other ways. Other residents are welcome to join topic groups. They can get open invitation letters and relevant materials online at gocolumbiamo.com or at the Daniel Boone Building, public libraries or the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center.

ACP produced the list of topic groups after going through all the ideas, entering them into a database and identifying broad categories. Some of the group names, such as Community Pride and Human Relations, might change. Lindbom said the existing list “is just for initial sorting to understand how best the issues can be organized and discussed.”

Being the steward of ideas is the groups’ job, Lindbom said. They will work from January to July, meeting at least once a month and using “the ideas that came from the community to develop goals for the future. And they will also develop strategies that will help to achieve those goals and then specify implementation steps,” she added.

Goals generated by the topic groups will be refined during an Exploring the Vision Workshop in April, then presented to the public at a Community Choices Workshop in June.

Messina said it’s best that volunteers stick to one topic because each group’s work will be extensive.

Two co-facilitators and a staff support person will also be assigned to each topic group. The co-facilitators will guide group discussions and help form consensus on goals and strategies.

To form inclusive groups, however, the Vision Committee has more to do. One goal is to get more young people and more Latinos involved. Jeffrey Williams, co-chairman of the Vision Committee, said it is trying to devise some specific strategies to attract young people.

“We are looking at doing something to make high school kids more aware of the visioning project and also here at the (MU) campus,” Williams said.

Getting more Latinos involved is key, Williams said, given the area’s increasing Hispanic population. “There have been many outreach efforts to the Spanish community, and those efforts will continue,” said Dianne Drainer, co-chairwoman of the Vision Committee.

Lindbom said she has been impressed by Columbians’ “fantastic passion” for the community. Although the city has few serious problems to worry about compared with other communities that have undertaken visioning efforts, she said residents here have a sincere concern about how to preserve and enhance the positive things about Columbia.


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