Incoming Anniston council to ask residents for planning help
by Cameron Steele
Nov 03, 2012 | 3814 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston Mayor-elect Vaughn Stewart discusses a point as Councilman-elect Seyram Selase listens during a council retreat Friday at the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Anniston Mayor-elect Vaughn Stewart discusses a point as Councilman-elect Seyram Selase listens during a council retreat Friday at the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Mayor-elect Vaughn Stewart wants to hire an outside consultant to help Anniston develop a strategic plan for growth, and he wants to put together a community task force to help determine who exactly that consultant should be.

The other members of the incoming City Council were receptive to the ideas and Friday, during the second day of a retreat meeting for Anniston’s new leaders, discussed what could become some of their first actions as elected officials.

“The people are tired of the city shooting from the hip, being reactive instead of proactive,” Stewart said at the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center at McClellan, where for the past two days the council-elect has met to prepare themselves to take office next week.

Many of the new members ran on platforms of working together and Friday expressed a desire to work with various community members, too — specifically by creating a task force to research what consulting firm would best help Anniston develop a plan to manage its resources and by appointing various city residents to that task force.

Stewart said his former opponent, Ann Welch, has already researched some consulting firms. He suggested she would be a good addition to such a task force.

Ward 1 Councilman Jay Jenkins noted that Toby Bennington, city planner, has begun to look into consultants, too.

“We’ve got so much more to offer than we did 20 years ago,” Stewart said, touching on current and potential developments at the Coldwater Mountain Trails, the Chief Ladiga Trail, Veterans Memorial Parkway and McClellan. “We want community-based task forces; we have a great opportunity to do some unification.”

Today, in the third day of the retreat, the council members-elect will go into detail about their specific hopes and plans for the Model City. Friday they gleaned more general information from the research director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, a group that works to help municipalities across the state improve their government practices.

Joe Adams, PARCA’s research director, talked at length about how to create a strategic plan that works and the best budgeting procedures, armed with a quarterly progress report for 20 cities within Alabama.

“Think about how all of your departments can connect to the city’s — the council’s — priorities,” Adams said.

He emphasized a municipal plan that included flexibility, performance evaluations and “SMART” budgeting, the latter of which calls for officials to set goals and organize spending based on those plans.

Incorporating “best practices” checklists for each city department, staying away from micromanagement and understanding the city’s financial history are other ways to improve local government, Adams said.

“Yeah, our budget process wasn’t a good one this year,” Jenkins said. “It was very reactive.”

After the PARCA presentation, Stewart, who organized the retreat, asked Adams to assist in a “visionary strategic planning exercise” for Anniston.

He discussed partnerships with other organizations, such as the Anniston Board of Education and the Public Education Foundation, to develop tactics for education progress, one of the main concerns of the newly elected council. Adams also offered PARCA’s services to the members as they move forward.

“We can help with regional approaches to making areas better, working together,” Adams said.

Before Adams’ presentation, the council also received advice from U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, who discussed his experiences in local government as a former Calhoun County commissioner.

“Decide early in your term what you hope to accomplish by the end of your term,” Rogers said.

“I do think it’s a good idea to hire an outside consultant.”

Hours after the retreat’s second day began, the conversation ultimately turned back to establishing a vision: specific and accomplishable goals for the Model City.

Stewart again mentioned the usefulness of creating community task forces to help tackle these issues with input from residents.

“That’s going to be your nickname,” Councilman-elect Seyram Selase joked. “Vaughn ‘Task Force’ Stewart.”

Assistant Metro Editor Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @CSteele_star.
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