Councilmen, dept. heads to tour wards before retreat

November 22, 2013 10:14:08 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Columbus councilmen and department heads are having a retreat Dec. 5 and they'll tour each ward the city in the days beforehand to assess issues that are unique to the city's different areas. 


After those tours, they'll meet with Phil Hardwick, project manager at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University. 


Councilman Kabir Karriem said the pre-planning component will be needed to ensure he and his colleagues get the most out of the day-long session. 


"I don't think we visit each other's wards as much we need to be," Karriem said. "I think it would be a good idea for us to know the unique things that are going on in each ward. (Ward 3) might have needs that Ward 5 doesn't need but it's better to move the city in the right direction, so we need to take that time and opportunity to visit each other's ward to see those unique issues in parts of the city." 


Hardwick said he encouraged the city-wide tour in advance of the retreat. It will be crucial to the four-step process he has taken numerous municipalities through in his 20-plus years of facilitating similar meetings in Starkville, Tupelo, Clinton and others. 


The first three of those steps will be addressed Dec. 5. Those include evaluating where Columbus is currently, visioning where councilmen want to see the city in three years once their term in office is over and setting goals to achieve that vision. 


Hardwick said he would subsequently follow up with city officials over the term to check on their progress and offer advice. 


"We'll look at this from several different angles," he said. "A lot of this is art more than science. My job is to make sure we work through the process so that we don't leave anything on the table. Whatever the main issues are, we don't want to skirt any issues. I think the real key here is the follow-up so that they stay focused and then at the end of their term in office they can definitely say they definitely achieved these goals." 


Over time, Hardwick said he's developed techniques that have been successful in guiding leaders through each of those four steps. On Dec. 5, he'll meet with councilmen and Mayor Robert Smith from 8 a.m.-noon and department heads from 1-4 p.m. before meeting with everyone for an hour after each breakout session to make sure all officials are on the same page. 


"This is pretty much the textbook accepted definition of the strategic planning process," he said. "Over time what I've done is develop different techniques as we go through each of these steps to work through them. I'll ask them to complete the sentence, 'I'll be proud of Columbus in three years if...' Then we narrow it down from there." 


Councilmen agreed last month to rent the Plymouth Bluff Center for the session. Between the rental and Hardwick's fees, $1,500 in taxpayer money will be used for the retreat.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.