Visioning effort enters home stretch

Saturday, September 15, 2007 | 5:09 p.m. CDT; updated 10:33 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — While voting on her priorities for the city at a Community Choices open house on Thursday, Barbie Reid said she was amazed at how long it’s taken to develop a vision for the future of Columbia.

It has given her a “sense of respect for people in office, for people who put themselves in government positions, that have patience with the process,” she said.

The visioning process is entering its final stages. Thursday’s event marked residents’ last chance to formally register their opinions by selecting their top six priorities from a list of 118 strategies developed by Citizen Topic Groups. Nearly 500 people participated in the open house. Some groups mobilized members to advance their interests.

The vote was “another avenue for input” and was not intended to push any of the strategies off the agenda, said Dianne Drainer, co-facilitator of the Vision Committee.

The city’s consultant, ACP Visioning and Planning of New York, won’t have the results of the open house until next week, co-facilitator Jeffrey Williams said. Once its report is ready, he expects it will be forwarded to the Columbia City Council.

“We had 470 people come out and take a chunk of their time to register their interest,” Williams said. “I think that is another indication of the level of interest we see in the course of the project.”

Toni Messina, director of public communications for the city, called the turnout excellent.

The Chamber of Commerce tried to ramp up interest in strategies that align with its goals. Marty Siddall, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, sent an e-mail to all chamber members reminding them to vote.

“Specifically we ask that you rank the following seven items as the priorities for Columbia’s future,” Siddall’s e-mail said. Six of these items address economic development; one focuses on education.

“Our Chamber of Commerce has a mission to promote economic vitality, and it is our belief that a healthy economic climate is necessary to support and continue to provide the wonderful lifestyle amenities we enjoy in Columbia,” Siddall said.

The coordinated effort didn’t sit well with some participants on Thursday. Judy Turner and Fran Davis attended the open house and voted for priorities under the categories of Health, Social Services and Affordable Housing. They said they were discouraged, though, by the fact that issues identified by the chamber were getting many of the votes. The number of blue dots people used to indicate priorities exceeded the space provided in some cases, the women said.

Siddall said he had received nothing but positive responses to his e-mail. The Central Missouri Development Council and the Columbia Board of Realtors shared the message with their members.

“We’re being good citizens in asking our members to engage in the democratic process and let their voice be heard,” Siddall said.

Chamber President Don Laird also defended the strategy.

“We did it to coordinate with our strategic plan,” Laird said, adding that he feels much of Columbia favors the goals identified by the group.

Williams said the chamber’s method didn’t bother him.

“People have different views as to what they think are important” he said. “If people are willing to mobilize, I think that is entirely permissible. We applaud that level of engagement.”

The Minority Men’s Network also recommended its members get out and vote for specific priorities. Member Steve Calloway said the group is interested in the priority of increasing the accountability of the city administration to the council and the public. But that goal, he said, should include the creation of a citizen review board to monitor the Columbia Police Department.

Others complained that some participants were voting multiple times for the same strategy, rather than voting once for each of six.

“It is not how the issue is supposed to work,” Williams said. “It is almost disconcerting someone would say I am only interested in one thing.”

Messina said the city didn’t “monitor or police the voting.”

Although it will be another week before ACP’s official count is done, the results of a Missourian survey conducted at the open house are in. Ninety-three people filled out paper surveys indicating the six priorities they chose.

The top vote-getter in the Missourian survey was the preservation of open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas. Thirty-four people indicated that was a high priority. Tied for second, with 23 votes each, were the expansion of the public transit system and the development of a street-scape plan.

Coming in third, with 21 votes, was the addition of flights from Columbia to major airline hubs. Investing in environmental efficiency and renewable energy received 20 votes. Seventeen said that the city should make it a priority to develop the infrastructure necessary to support high-tech industry, community Internet access and a skilled work force.

— Missourian reporters Kate O’Donnell and Paul Hagey contributed to this story.

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