A transparent process

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Last week, the Cassville community had the opportunity to participate in a workshop that gave residents the chance to offer their thoughts and ideas regarding the city's future growth and development. This was not the first time the public had been invited to participate in the master planning process that the City of Cassville has been engaged in since March. Citizens were sent a survey back in June, and over 30 percent of city residents returned their surveys and offered their opinion on a wide range of issues relating to city services and growth. A 31 percent response rate is phenomenal, and I was thrilled to see that the public workshop was also well attended.

I have always urged the public to become more involved in local government and community affairs, but I often hear that citizens don't feel as if their input is accepted or wanted so they disengage from the whole process. In the case of Cassville's master plan, city leaders have been able to overcome that perception and have successfully drawn the public into the planning process. They have been able to do this because every step taken by the city in regards to its new master plan has been done transparently.

The hiring of the firm that has been overseeing the master plan process was conducted during open city council meetings, and several members of the public were invited to review the initial bid proposals and make recommendations to the mayor and council. The mayor appointed a 12-member Project Advisory Council that has been meeting monthly with BWR and city leaders on various segments of the master plan. The council includes citizens of various ages who represent all segments of the community, and I know their input has helped chart the direction of Cassville's master plan.

The opinion survey was mailed to every household and every business in the city, and city leaders publicized the survey process for several weeks before the surveys arrived in mailboxes. The results from the survey were also made available to the public very quickly after they were tabulated.

The public workshop, which I participated in, was a very enlightening exercise where citizens were given the opportunity to brainstorm about their vision of Cassville's future and offer their input on commercial and residential development, downtown redevelopment, land use and infrastructure needs. It was a very hands-on approach, and I believe everyone who attended felt engaged in the process and left the workshop feeling as if their input was important. One of the participants summed up the workshop very well when he described it as a "healthy, open and consensus-building" process.

Now citizens await completion of the preliminary master plan proposal that BWR expects to have done in December. Once again, this plan will be presented at an open meeting of the city council and discussed in detail. I'm also sure this plan will be a reflection of the public input offered over the past several months.

This whole process has been a perfect example of government transparency at the grassroots level. Cassville city leaders should be commended for the approach they chose to take in crafting a master plan for the city's growth and development. Members of the public who took the time to get involved in the planning process also deserve to be praised. Every citizen had the opportunity to participate, and there are no grounds for anyone to believe they were shut out of the process. The end result of this type of open interaction between government and the people should be a very workable and exciting plan that will help guide Cassville's development efforts for years to come.

Lisa Schlichtman