Community leaders begin ACE strategic planning

A group of community leaders met last week with a team of Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE) coordinators to begin the strategic planning process that leads to certification of Oneonta as an official ACE community. A number of benefits, including access to grants and marketing assistance, accompany that designation.

Although turnout was considered light, the planning process began with an effort to define participants’ overall vision for the community, followed by defining its mission in relation to the vision, followed by identifying three top priorities for improvement, along with goals, objectives, action items, and assignment of responsibilities and deadlines necessary to accomplish them.

Though subject to change as the process continues, below are some of the statements that resulted from the initial planning session. More such sessions will follow in order to complete the strategic plan. Progress made

Vision: (To assure that Oneonta is) “a thriving municipality exhibiting the core values of family, community, educational, and economic prosperity.”

Mission: “To serve the community by creating a distinctive entrepreneurial and safe environment ensuring the highest possible quality of life for all.”

Top priorities, in order: education; economic and community development; community revitalization (emphasizing cultural vitality).

Much of the four-hour session was spent in urgent discussion of three problems identified by participants as a result of direction from Ephraim Stockdale, strategic planning moderator with Alabama Power.

Paraphrasing his instructions, he told participants to identify specific things they could do “immediately, and at low cost, to improve this place.” He emphasized identifying elements that would materially affect “how you want Oneonta to look” in five years. He said the group would move through a process of discussing progressively more detailed goals, objectives, actions, and responsibilities/ deadlines, emphasizing results leading to a specific outcome at each point along the way. Joker shows

The one caveat he issued was that the overall items/ problems /situations identified had to be realistically fixable using resources that could reasonably expected to be available to those charged with implementing the plan. And that turned out to be the joker in the deck for all three of the problem areas identified, though in two cases, that realization did not dawn until relatively late in the diligent discussions that followed.

The first item accepted as an important outcome was to introduce/expand the availability of pre-kindergarten education throughout educational delivery systems in Oneonta. While the group consensus accepted the importance of the outcome, it realized quickly that implementation is beyond local resources, and depends on policy and appropriations at the state level that are beyond its ability to predictably influence. Plot thickens

The group then focused on the need to resolve the current impasse in relations between the Oneonta City Council and the Oneonta School Board over increased funding for the city public school system, though it was not stated in terms as unambiguous as that.

The group worked through the several stages of the process, with discussion centering on the need to develop a constructive, working partnership between the city council and the school board. They assigned a date of December, 2016, to achieve that outcome. Strategies included recognizing issues between parties, identifying obstacles to the partnership, and arranging a meeting between parties. Critical factors for success included openness of both parties to the basic idea of partnership, cooperativeness and desire to communicate openly to achieve it, and a spirit of willingness to compromise to reach agreement. Barriers were identified: budget constraints, time, public opinion, and politics.

Action items were formulated: contact both groups to determine their availability for a meeting, and set a meeting to occur by July 31, 2016. Discussion included requesting attendance of an authoritative outside party as an unbiased contributor to the discussion. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham was mentioned as a possibility.

At that point, the group reversed course to revisit the earlier discussion of barriers to achieving the partnership. And at that point, the ship suddenly sank. The realization seemed to dawn and – to the observer trying to follow the ebb and flow of discussion – to achieve instantaneous consensus of impossibility with the intoning of a single word: “politics.” The group immediately consigned the discussion to the purgatory of further examination at a future date, and took up its final challenge of the day. Technology rear s its head

The third problem area the group tackled had to do with the inadequacy of high-speed Internet capability in Oneonta. The consensus was it is a manifest problem, that has resisted resolution for far too long, and that it is a serious impediment to the city’s economic competitiveness. Businesses considering relocation, it was agreed, consider high-speed connectivity to be a routine, imperative factor in site selection.

Blount County Economic Development Council executive director Don Mitchell gave a dramatic example of the extent of the problem. Recently, he had occasion to download an extensive file involving diagrams and many pages of text at his office here. The download was so slow, he drove 32 miles to another office in a sister city with high-speed facilites available. He downloaded the entire file in less than five minutes. Meanwhile, the file took several hours to download in Oneonta.

Multiple members of the group are already working to resolve the problem. A comprehensive meeting of parties involved in both the technology and engineering aspects of the problem as well as the policy and administrative aspects has been set for the near future. The planning group decided that, depending on the outcome of that meeting, this problem area may well fall within its realistic purview to address afterwards with the full range of planning remedies to mobilize action.