WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen are holding a day-long strategic planning workshop on Saturday, Oct. 23 and are seeking selected members of the public to participate in or observe sessions.
Five members of the public will be selected from those expressing interest to Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman to participate in the morning session articulating the town’s mission and the general public is welcome and encouraged to attend and observe that and an afternoon discussion session.
“I just want to make sure the right people are in the room there, who the board wants,” Heineman said. Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said there has to be enough publicity about the workshop so that interested citizens know about it. “This is a public meeting, so anyone can attend. I think the key is who is participating actively in the small groups and who isn’t.”
Heineman said there have already been some members of the public who have expressed interest in participating.
“There are some members of the public you would expect to show an interest, who didn’t know about it,” Kowalski said. “We do need to make sure that we reach out enough so that enough interested people are here at the meeting. … Otherwise it’s not a vision that’s shared with the town — it’s something that a small group of people come up with.”
Consultant Ann Donner updated the board on the process at it’s Tuesday, Oct. 12 meeting.
“One part is focused on Phase 2 strategy development and assessment,” Donner said. “Following that is Phase 3, which is really developing and articulating mission, vision, values and priorities and providing a framework for the two over the next five years.”
The morning mission session will focus on “defining and prioritizing a range of overarching strategic priorities” and to think about what the outcomes would be — “coming up with the language that people feel captures what the town of Whitman stands for,” she said.
Donner will facilitate that activity.
“It’s a great solace to know that we’re not just sitting there with a blank piece of paper,” Kowalski said.
The afternoon session will discuss how “everything that we all do contributes to all those strategic priorities” even though it may not be obvious.
She offered mission statements and strategic outlines of communities around the nation, including Fort Collins, Colo.
Selectman Justin Evans asked who else the board should be inviting to the meeting, besides Selectmen, Whitman School Committee, department heads and members of the public to ensure a productive session Oct. 23.
“Or are we getting too big,” he asked.
“The number of participants shouldn’t matter,” Donner said. “Whoever you would like to participate, there’s a way to participate through the way it’s organized.”
Kowalski asked how she envisioned the physical makeup of the Town Hall auditorium for the most effective session — whether, for example, there would be people seated at “a set of tables with X-number of people at it and sharing the results of our conversation at those tables?”
Donner said that was a good setup and that, often, there are guiding questions, depending on the number of people, providing opportunites for breakout sessions.
Selectman Randy LaMattina asked how the regional school district could be completely included.
“To just come up with Whitman’s strategic plan for the school district is only including half the team,” he said, asking how Donner would advise integrating the Hanson School Committee members or that town’s officials, perhaps taking part in their own breakout meeting.
“I see a complete conflict that, we go ahead and establish something that works for Whitman, but it really isn’t a strategic plan for education in the regional school district,” he said.
Donner conceded that is an excellent point, saying critical information to examine prior to Oct. 23 is the district’s own recently completed strategic plan to ensure they are in alignment so there are not two competing documents.
Evans said that it is important that what comes out of the Oct. 23 session should be coming from Whitman residents and town employees for the credibility of the strategic plan, but it is also worth at least inviting at least School Committee Chairman Chris Howard, who is a Hanson resident to at least be in the audience for questions. He also suggested Hanson’s Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer would be a good person to invite as an observer.
“It does make sense if the town’s financial plan is in line with their plan, where we’ve struggled with that and still — unfortunately, even with this — will not be addressed,” LaMattina said. “We run on parallel roads, but financially we’re not in the same place.”
Donner suggested a priority could be concerning the schools and the town’s role in the schools with meeting focused on that.
Selectman Dan Salvucci noted that most town departments also have five-year plans, if not written then in mind, a financial strategic plan would also have to be formulated to achieve those goals.
Salvucci also pointed to the previous survey of residents about strategic goals as a way that the public has been given a voice.
Donner also said there would be a public comment period for people unable to attend to make their voices heard.
“I’m slightly disappointed because I thought we were a little beyond this, that we were actually going to implement a plan, that we were beyond the fact-finding,” LaMattina said, noting there has already been a public survey. “When are we actually going to get the team together and develop a plan?”
He also wondered if the five or six public participants would really be providing a snapshot of what the town wants, or what they want.
“If the success of this plan is dependent on buy-in and a shared vision, then the most important people are the other department heads,” LaMattina said. “I think it will make for a more productive meeting, personally.”
In other business, Selectmen discussed the public forum process, which had recently been suspended.
“We have to make sure that we still observe the Open Meeting Law,” Kowalski said. “People should know what we’re going to be discussing and acting upon each week when they get an agenda.”
But, he agreed, there ought to be a way to raise concerns with the board that are not on an agenda, so long as they understand that no action nor meaningful discussion will be taken up at that time, but that may be placed on a future agenda.
Evans noted that the School Committee had made a similar decision earlier this year.
Selectmen also extended an invitation to DPW Highway and Parks Supervisor Bruce Martin to attend an upcoming meeting to discuss why the DPW Commissioners had recommended placement of cameras in Whitman Park.
Selectmen voted not to put park cameras on the Capital Improvement plan at this time.