What should Brainerd be like in three years?
That was the vision question before the Brainerd City Council and staff members Monday night in a strategic planning session.
Recurring themes during the two-and-a-half hour discussion included trust and communication. For the first 75 minutes, the council and staff tried to craft a mission statement. Council member Mary Koep suggested they be more “precise and less wiggly.” But the meeting picked up speed as members brainstormed a list of goals for the near future.
Ed Egan and Dick Jordan, members of Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development (BLAEDC) Execs, facilitated the meeting, working first on a broad mission statement.
Options included: “the only reason we are here is to serve the people in Brainerd in an ethical, open manner.”
And the council considered a mission “to provide high quality, cost effective public service in a timely, trustworthy and respectful manner on behalf of the people of the city of Brainerd.”
Koep said she saw a dilemma and deficiency in a process that presented general terms equal to apple pie and motherhood but didn’t come down to looking at who the city cared about and who was collateral damage.
“It is, with all respect, meaningless,” Koep said.
Egan agreed with Koep that some of the work is a bit like apple pie in the sky but added there is something to be said for agreeing on what the mission is and the action items to get there are where the rubber meets the road. Egan said a mission statement may be a high level thought, like Walt Disney’s succinct “Make people happy.”
Several times, Koep spoke about treating people with respect and whether the vision was for the community at the expense of individual residents.
“I think that’s always going to be the case in every decision that me make, someone is always going to be unhappy,” said Chip Borkenhagen of the collateral damage comment. City staff and the council spent more than an hour defining the city’s mission statement without coming to a conclusion. They did narrow it down to two statements. Recurring themes included a desire to achieve trust of residents.
Council member Gary Scheeler suggested saying the city will continue to strive for quality and to earn the trust of residents and communicate. Other council members also spoke of trust and an apparent lack of it on some fronts. Council member Dave Pritschet mentioned getting email accusing him of being a puppet. Council President Bonnie Cumberland received a phone message of a toilet flushing.
Cumberland said the people have been annoyed with city government during the last few years.
During the brainstorming session, Borkenhagen pointed to Baxter’s often hour-long meetings and penchant for work sessions to allow for more discussion in less formal session as an option for Brainerd.
Scheeler suggested the council discuss what it’s thoughts are in terms of grant applications.
“There is such a divided situation like that now, some are calling (Local Government Aid) crack,” Scheeler said. “I’m getting a lot of comments like that.”
Council member David Pritschet said there is a perception of the city as being reactive instead of proactive.
While downtown Brainerd is often discussed, Council member Kelly Bevans said most people’s impressions are probably formed from the car window along two major highways through the city. The question is what will make those people pull over?
Koep said she feels the city could do a better job of marketing itself.
“To me this is such a wonderful place,” Koep said. “It has so much potential. We could do so much more in actually marketing it.”
The session included department heads and staff from fire, police, planning, parks, utilities, finance and engineering.
■ A list of vision/goals included:
Communication with the public.
Promotion of the Mississippi River.
Economic gardening — business growth and development.
Comprehensive plan update (the city’s comprehensive plan was last updated in 2004.)
Partnerships and collaborations (from the city of Baxter to townships, Region Five, school boards.)
Highway 210 aesthetics.
Aging population and opportunities there.
Long-term planning for succession, city buildings.
Capital improvement planning.
City council work sessions to talk out issues outside the regular council meetings. Council’s role in policy, analyzing issues.
Local option sales tax.
Annexation, city growth and development, expansion.
Staffing needed in three to five years.
Public utilities, with as many underground as possible.
How aggressive should code enforcement be.
Establishing a clear, understandable process for committee and commission appointments to get the best person for positions.
Enhancing arts, culture.
Retain, support neighborhood schools.
Monday served as the first of three strategic planning sessions. Council members were to work on grouping and prioritizing goals and coming together on the mission and value statements. Council members were tasked with turning in their priorities from the list and imagine what vision statement would get the priorities done. The lists are expected for the March 4 council meeting.
The next strategic session is March 11.