Columbia asks residents to help set priorities

Friday, August 31, 2007 | 12:48 p.m. CDT; updated 4:37 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

COLUMBIA — After nearly a year and half of community visioning, Columbia residents will have six votes — more specifically six dots — to show which issues they think should receive the most emphasis in the next five, 10 and 15 years.

At the Community Choices Open House on Sept. 13, residents will each be given six dots to place on mounted display boards featuring the 118 strategies generated by 13 Citizen Topic Groups that represented subject areas such as education, economic development, and health, social services and affordable housing. The six that get the most votes will become priorities for Columbia in the coming years.

If you go

The Community Choices Open House will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 13 at Lela Raney Wood Hall, at the corner of Broadway and College at Stephens College. Shuttles from the downtown Twilight Festival to the hall will be available.

“There are issues that are important to everyone in this Vision Plan,” said Renee Graham, a spokeswoman for the city. “This is an opportunity for everyone in the community to talk to leaders and say, ‘These are what my priorities are.’”

Suggested strategies include the Economic Development group’s idea to “leverage Columbia’s natural advantages — MU, Columbia’s location and environment and Columbia’s people — in fostering economic development.” Health, Social Services and Affordable Housing suggested the city “implement incentive zoning that encourages residential developers to provide a percentage of affordable units with newly constructed communities.”

From the beginning of the visioning process, citizen participation in policy-making has been the ultimate goal. That’s why the Sept. 13 open house will last eight hours.

“We felt that by having it from 12 to 8 (p.m.), that would allow for the greatest opportunity for outreach,” Visioning Committee co-chair Dianne Drainer said.

Drainer said City Manager Bill Watkins started the visioning process in January 2006 because he wanted a way to gather input from the community.

“I think anytime you get citizens talking and getting together to organize ideas, it is helpful,” Drainer said.

More than 450 people have been involved in the visioning process. Outreach efforts have included the Vision Festivals held in fall 2006 and early 2007, and fliers and announcements targeted toward organizations such as the Rotary Club and youth groups.

“There have been volunteers from all walks of life that have been working with the citizen topic groups,” Graham said.

During monthly meetings, subcommittees within each citizen topic group reviewed issues and strategies for implementing goals.

“These were citizens who were deeply committed to the visionary process, and, hopefully, making Columbia a good place for years to come,” said Robert Bailey, facilitator for the Economic Development topic group. “There was animated discussion, but even when there was disagreement among my members, it was courteous and open-minded.”

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