Loxahatchee Groves visioning facilitator Kevin Knutson gave a report at the Tuesday, Jan. 7 meeting of the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on the results from last fall’s community workshop.
Knutson, of Envisio Solutions, led the visioning workshop held at Palm Beach State College’s Loxahatchee Groves campus on Sept. 28 attended by several hundred town residents, as well as council members, town staff and political science students.
“Since that time, I have submitted to you the results of that session and the decisions that were made. I wanted to come back and briefly give you some advice on how to move forward with all that, and what the next steps should be,” Knutson said.
He explained that the purpose of strategic planning is to gain consensus on what the vision for the community is and what outcomes people want to see.
“I think it is very clear from the session and the feedback we received that on a lot of the long-term problems… people want to see some forward movement,” Knutson said. “I know that you and your staff have been working very hard to actually address some of these things, but I think what’s missing is a plan, and some serious thought that gives you step-by-step what’s going to happen, so that when people see things happening, they know it’s one in a series of things rather than a one-off.”
Council priorities developed from the visioning session include roads, canals and drainage; communications and branding; and relevant commercial development, with specific subsections in each category on how to address the issues.
Roads, canals and drainage included subsections to create a grid to define priority roads, establish a long-range financial forecast to determine available funding, and develop and deploy a maintenance program based on that funding.
Communications and branding subsections were to develop key messages that support the town’s brand, create and execute a strategic communications plan, and provide official communications vehicles for resident use.
Relevant commercial development is to update and modernize land development regulations, create a long-range plan for economic development, and develop a plan for annexation.
Knutson added that he met with most of the town’s advisory committees and got their feedback.
The next step is to give staff clear direction on what to focus on, he said, suggesting that the council select the most salient items he had listed and focus on them.
“Pick a couple of those items — the ones that are the highest priority for you as a body — and direct staff to come back to you with some action plans that have the totality of what you hope to accomplish,” Knutson said.
Those plans would include who is going to do it, how long it is going to take, the costs associated with it and how to pay for it.
“Obviously, it’s up to you and what’s happening in the community and what the current opportunities are to decide which are the best items to move forward with,” he said.
Knutson also encouraged the council to have staff give regular reports on progress regarding the selected projects.
“Some of the best practices that we’re trying to put in place here have already been taken care of,” he said. “The first one is to include stakeholders in the decision-making process, and you have done that. The second one is to set your goals, and I believe we have done that. What we have to do next is identify what actions we’re going to put into place to achieve these things, come up with some clear, quantifiable goals that we’re trying to accomplish, figure out the funding and report back to you on a regular basis how you are doing on that.”
The purpose of regular reporting to the council is to keep the elected officials advised of progress and possible problems that may be hampering progress.
“If issues come up that are holding people back from finishing things on time, then you’ll know about it in advance and be able to change your plans and make accommodations for that,” Knutson said, adding that it is important to anticipate roadblocks, such as hurricanes or a recession. “How would we be able to absorb those things and still be able to accommodate what we’re trying to accomplish here?”
He recommended that town staff be directed to prepare an annual report on items the town is working on, as well as quarterly reports to the council on each of the projects with status updates.
“If there is a need to really focus on something, certainly pick that and double down on it, but I think if you want to see momentum on all of these, you might want to pick one or two items from each one of those areas,” Knutson said.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski asked Knutson if what he found was typical of young towns trying to get started, and Knutson said that is often the case.
“Dealing with institutional problems that have been around for decades, a new town is always struggling to overcome inertia that is around those,” he said. “Interestingly enough, I’ve worked with much older towns that had similar issues. Durham, N.C, is one of my favorites. They still have dirt roads, and you can imagine the struggles with some of the issues with maintenance and whether they should be paved. The age of the town does not matter as much as some of the unique circumstances each of them have.”
Mayor Robert Shorr asked council members how they would like to proceed, and Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said she would like to bring it back up at the next workshop and put specific items on the council’s regular agenda for action.
“I want to keep this on the top,” Maniglia said. “I think it is important that we speak of it at every meeting and keep the momentum going.”
Shorr agreed with Knutson that the council and staff has already made significant progress addressing the issues on the priorities list.
“Maybe if we can get a summary from staff on what we have done with the communications, the web site and what we already have in the plans,” Shorr said. “Take my favorite priority, roads. It seems like the simplest one. We’ve already worked on grading priorities, but what does that priority mean? I don’t know where the end is.”
Knutson said the council will have to define what the end will be to its goals, explaining that he had arranged the list of problems and goals in the order that they probably should be taken.
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said his staff has been following what they had heard at the visioning session.
“For example, under the roads, canals and drainage, to be compliant with the comp plan, we have already assigned examination of that to the [Roadways, Equestrian, Trails & Greenway Advisory Committee] and the [Finance Advisory & Audit Committee], which by definition are supposed to meet together and help determine those levels of service and priorities on that grid,” he said.