After spending most of the past two years putting out inherited fires, Goochland’s Board of Supervisors is now looking to the future by appropriating funds to hire a consultant to help in the creation of a short term (three years out) strategic plan.
Strumpf Associates: Center for Strategic Change was retained to handle the task. Principal Lori Strumpf, who has worked on regional workforce groups with District 4 Supervsior Bob Minnick, has been conducting citizen focus group sessions to gather information about what stakeholders—people who live and work, including county employees, in Goochland—believe are the most important issues facing the county in the near term.
Unlike some other consultants that have “advised” Goochland in the past, most notably the clueless clowns from Charlottesville foisted on us by VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “oops!”—as part of the failed urban development initiatve, Strumpf “gets it.” She has worked with a number of jurisdictions in essentially the same boat as Goochland.
On Monday, October 28, the supervisors and County Adminsitrator Rebecca Dickson, spent most of the day in a workshop with Strumpf. The session was one of exploration. “No problem solving today,” Strumpf admonished at the start.
Strategy, said Strumpf, is identifying known knowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Dealing with the last category requires being able to see around the curves and be flexbile enough to deal with them.
To ensure that an organization meets and exceeds expectations, focus should be on continuous quality improvement.
Ned Creasey District 3 contended that people want transparaency in government, but do not participate in government and spread misinformation rather than try to understand what os going on.
Indeed, citizen engagement or a lack thereof, was a thread that wove through the entire day’s discussion.
Manuel Alvarez, Jr., Distirct 2 commented that citizens fill public hearings when matters that concern them are on the agenda, but pretty much ignore what county government is doing most of the time. He cited the kerfuffle about proposed revisions to the ordiance regarding nusisance companion animals.
This board is scrupulous about restricting its closed session deliberations and live streams all meetings in an effort to be transparent. The county and school system put their check registers on the county website for easy perusal, yet few seem to take advantage of this openness.
Going forward, an engaged citizenry is needed to support and maintain policies put in place now to ensure that the positive momentum generated by this board continues. It will also supply future leaders to ensure continuity of sound policies being put into place right now.
The board listed outside forces, over which it has no control, and pose serious threats. These included: continued devolution of services and functions from the state to local level with no funds to ease the transition; unfunded mandates in general; ensuring that economic development keeps pace with an escalating debt burden; how to balance the burgeoning demand for services (law enforcement, fire-rescue, and schools)generated by growth with the ability to fund them; national economy; and stresses between the rural and not so rural parts of the county. The proposed dog ordinance is a clear illustration of this.
One comment that surfaced in many of the small focus groups (one public one was held that evening) was that Goochland needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. The alternatives include: bedroom community; a rural community or a business community. The supervisors did not seem inclined to choose one over the other, but favored all three in appropriate areas.
Strumpf also reported that very few respondents were totally against any growth. Most believe that some growth is necessary, but that it must be the right kind of growth that does not impinge on the rural nature of the county. She also stated that the term “rural” needs a concise definition.
The question of what kind of business is acceptable and who makes that decision was also raised. Many people, she contended, would be happy to see a WalMart headquarters in West Creek but do not want a WalMart store in the county.
This board has so far opted to support core functions of the government—law enforcement, fire-rescue and schools—as it determines the role of local government.
Some focus group participants favored the county funding internet deployment to the entire county; supporting farmers markets, wineries, and festivials to bring in agritourism.
Board chair Ken Peterson, District 5, contended that it is the county’s job to “set the table” to encourage a wide range of economic activity.
Indeed,ideally, local government’s job is to act as a catalyst and create an environment that attracts private capital. The county should not be in the internet business, or the farmers market business or any other business driven by market forces. Entrepreneurs are able to react to changes faster and better than hide bound government entities. an infusion of tax dollars won’t fix a strugggling enterprise.
Strumpf said that some respondents believed that the current real estate tax rates are too low and need to be increased to fund new schools and sufficient law enforcement. The supervisors understand that no all property owners are able to absorb a tax rate increase, and higher taxes make Goochland less competitive with its neighbors.
There is a conflict between those who want local government increase regulation to protect residents from actions taken by others that adversely affect them versus those who want more freedom to do as they please on their own land. This issue will get more contentious as the county’s population density increases. The dog noise and brewery road issues are the latest examples of this.
Goochland Schools, contrary to widely held public beliefs, actually rank highly in most metrics of local education quality. Strumpf said that some focus group participants contended that perpetuation of that belief controls residential growth. Others contend that busting that myth will help to attract businesses to locate here.
There is concern that an influx of new homes filled with young families could swamp the school system. The school board is trying to predict the number of students generated by the new subdivisions on the horizon. As the county’s population ages, the potential for homes owned by older folks to be bought by families with children is very real, and probably impossible to gauge. Susan Lascolette, District 1, contended that young families add stability to a community and should be viewed as an asset, rather than a liability.
An analysis of strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat(SWOT) ensued.
Perhaps the most important current strength is that the supervisors work well with each other, the school board, and the county staff, a paradigm shift from the previous regime. This too could be a weakness, because the personal dynamic of this group could change.
Susan Lascolette, District 1 said that the massive turnout in county leadership that resulted from the 2011 elections turned out well, but could have been different. She hoped to find a strategy to ensure continuity in leadership going forward.
Strumpf encouraged the supervisors to craft a vision to help citizens understand--and buy into--the county's focus.
The supervisors will continue to meet and discuss the strategic plan and present the product to citizens early next year.