City Council to begin strategic planning retreat

Posted: December 12, 2013

The Winchester Star

John A. Willingham
Dale Iman
Elizabeth Minor
Milt McInturff

WINCHESTER — The roadmap for the city’s immediate future will be drawn over the next two days.

Today at noon in the Radiant Room at the Bright Box Theater, City Council begins its two-day strategic planning retreat. The panel will return to the space at 15 N. Loudoun St. at 8 a.m. Friday to finish off the planning process.

This specific strategic-planning process was brought to Winchester by City Manager Dale Iman for the first time a year ago. In addition to having one such retreat under their belts, the councilors have watched as the plan they produced has permeated the city’s operations over the past year.

“It’s provided a clear direction of our priorities for the coming years that provides management and staff a list of what council’s interests are in the short term, in the medium term, and in the long term,” Council President John Willingham said. “It also helps focus our discussion on the budget and what the funding priorities are.”

Led by facilitator Lyle Sumek of Palm Coast, Fla., last December, the councilors established a list of things they hoped to accomplish over the next 18 months and ranked them as top, high and moderate priorities. Since that time, city staff members have worked to advance and complete the prioritized tasks.

A few have been completed, such as the development of a master plan for street and sidewalk maintenance. Some, including the redevelopment of the Taylor Hotel, should be completed by the middle of next year.

Others haven’t gained as much traction, including a comprehensive revision of the city’s Zoning Ordinance. The project was sidetracked when bids came in well over budget.

Overall, councilors seem satisfied with the progress that’s been made toward completing their wish list.

“I feel like the plan has been a very good working tool for us,” Mayor Elizabeth Minor said. “I really feel that we’ve gotten a lot accomplished, and I know we still have a lot of things on our plate.

“It’s hard to do everything in a year’s time, but I think we’re off to a good start and have gotten a lot accomplished.”

Vice President Milt McInturff said at the conclusion of last year’s retreat that he’d have been a better councilor had he been exposed to the process from the beginning, and he maintains that claim.

He credited Sumek with taking all the issues the councilors wanted to tackle and helping them organize their priorities.

“I think Dale has followed the strategic plan well,” McInturff said. “We set our goals and some of the goals we set have been met. It’ll be nice to kind of put those on the back burner.”

While the immediate goals take priority at budget time, Willingham noted that long-range goals also are set.

The accomplishments of year one have the councilors optimistic about year two.

Willingham said he made assumptions a year ago that some issues that were being worked on would come to fruition somewhat naturally, and he didn’t prioritize them as high as he should have.

As an example, he mentioned the desire to renovate and use the Winchester McCormac Outdoor Amphitheater. Willingham said he would have liked to have seen more progress made this year, but as a moderate priority it didn’t get the attention other projects did.

“This time,” he said, “I’ll be better prepared to have that conversation about how we look at our priorities and funding them.”

The council president said he expects “a wide-ranging discussion on a variety of topics” during the retreat and thinks a new direction could be charted.

“I expect good conversation, a good open discussion about where we’re going, what we did, how we did it and what’s next on the agenda,” he said. “It could be anything from economic development to an organizational succession plan, but I think there will be different focuses than there were last year.”

McInturff said he considers this council to be “forward-looking,” and as such they need planning sessions to establish their agenda. He’s excited about what could spring from next year’s strategic plan.

“In my mind,” he said, “this has the potential to be a much more thorough plan because last year we had just gotten the ball rolling.

“Our wish list is out there. Now we’ve been into it for a year and we’ve got a little history with our plan, so we can insert some new things and check things off.”

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com