City discusses Vision Planning Results

Elyssa Haven for The Newberry Observer
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NEWBERRY — After numerous vision planning sessions held throughout the community, Charles Weathers of The Weathers Group consulting firm presented his final report to City Council Tuesday.

Weathers said he had facilitated sessions with City Council, the city manager as well as city department heads. Community based meetings with citizens were also held at churches, community centers and other venues.

“I’ve conducted a series of public listening sessions, held telephone interviews and face to face interviews with key stakeholders,” Weathers said. “We did all we could to get the community together.”

The purpose of the meetings, Weathers said, was to create the framework for an operational plan for the City of Newberry to determine their strategy of business for the next three years.

“Charles has conducted many vision training and implementation sessions around the country and particularly Newberry County,” said City Manager Matt DeWitt. “This unique perspective lent itself to Charles being the perfect fit to help lead the city’s conversations on vision planning.”

Based off the community’s input, Weathers said the vision he saw for the City of Newberry was to be an “open, engaged and thriving community.”

“Open means you’re open for business, open to innovation, to healthy change and to being welcoming and warm,” Weathers said. “Everywhere you go, you want to feel like you belong.”

What it would mean to be engaged, Weathers said is to be engaged in dialogue. Through these sessions, Weathers said that he heard from the community that they felt as if the city could attempt to communicate better.

“We have to be engaged in relationships across our differences,” Weathers said. “It’s not about what side of town we live on, but rather to have relationships across our differences at all times.”

Engaged could also mean in communication and problem solving, Weathers said.

“We want to see city council meetings full with citizens, but also want to see councilmen out in their communities and districts,” he said.

As a thriving community, Weathers said that should look like managed, responsible growth with an energetic downtown, continuing events for the community and a place where ideas are birthed and flourish.

The potential mission statement that Weathers said came from these sessions was “to be prudent stewards of the public’s resource as we provide citizens, businesses and visitors with excellent public services.”

The mission statement, Weathers said could be accomplished through inclusion, accountability, collaboration, integrity and excellence in service.

“No matter what we do, good enough is no longer good enough,” Weathers said. “We must do everything with the spirit of excellence. Excellence is not perfection; however, we will own those mistakes and learn from them to do better.”

Based on his conversations within the community, Weathers said they came up with four goals for the next three years for the city to focus on.

The first goal was to create an environment for sustainable economic development and growth that benefits the businesses and citizens of Newberry. The second goal being to continue to enhance operational excellence at department levels.

“We are no longer in the customer service business, but in the customer experience business,” Weathers said.

The third goal was to remain prudent stewards of the public’s trust and resources. And finally, to support quality of life improvement efforts.

Weathers said we as the Newberry community had to own these visions discussed and decide how we could contribute to getting there as a whole.

“You have to celebrate successes along the way, like you did tonight,” Weathers said of council recognizing employees for their years of service.

Weathers said it was really about community engagement and partnering with colleges, businesses and other entities as well as restoring trust and building relationships with marginalized parts of the community.

Mayor Foster Senn asked Weathers what surprised him, whether good or bad when leading the sessions within the community.

Weathers said that it surprised him just how many millennials were engaged in Newberry that wanted to make the community a great place. While in many towns you may see an age gap between those that are under 20 years old and those between the ages of 45-50, Newberry did not seem to have that problem, Weathers said.

“What we’re seeing in Newberry is that they [millennials] are not just present, but ready to do something and make a difference in their community,” Weathers said.

Weathers said that he was pleasantly surprised that when going through these sessions he did not get a lot of whining, complaining or fussing from the community, but rather people who came forward to bring concerns and also offered solutions to those concerns.

“You don’t see a lot of that in the sessions I lead,” Weathers said. “You’ve got folks here that love this place and want to see it grow.”

Council asked Weathers if they would see any of the specific ideas that were brought to him from his sessions to which he replied he would be working with DeWitt on an operational plan that would be presented to council in the future.

Weathers said it was important for council and the community to note that what he outlined was strategic framework and not a plan.

“Most plans will sit on a shelf somewhere and we do nothing with them,” Weathers said. “With this framework, we can move things around, make priorities, allowing us to change with an ever-changing environment.”

DeWitt said as the city was getting ready to kick off their budget season they would be looking at Weathers’ report and making sure the budget mirrored some of the vision Weathers captured.

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Elyssa Haven for The Newberry Observer