Decatur's strategic priorities to be discussed at special city council meeting
On Friday, October 8 at 8:00 AM, the Decatur City Council will be meeting at the Decatur Club to discuss the priority goals of the city council. The city council first developed its priority goals in 2019. The session next week will allow the city council to review progress on current goals and possibly revise or establish new goals. The seven priority goals approved by the council in 2019 were: Neighborhood revitalization; Grow, enhance and better prepare the local workforce; Take downtown Decatur to the next level; Implement selected new technologies that will improve municipal service delivery; Implement new revenue initiatives and cost reduction measures; Collaborate with other stakeholders to create a coordinated plan for Lake Decatur management; and Create a bold and aspirational vision for the future of Decatur.
PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE ON MOST OF THE GOALS
Each of the priority goals established by the council included strategies for advancing the goals. In the past two years, most of the priority goals had some strategies that were implemented. However, many of the strategies for each goal lack metrics that allow for an assessment of success. This, in turn, hinders the ability of the council to make evidence-based, data-driven decisions that improve the city’s trajectory. Moreover, the priority goals are not tied to a strategic vision for the city. Thus, while we have moved forward with our goals, without a vision, it is less clear where we are moving forward to.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE STRATEGIC PRIORITIES OF THE CITY
Below are some of my views on each of the current strategic goals including proposed new strategies to achieve them. In addition, I propose a new strategic goal (fostering equitable relationships) and advocate that the city council, with significant public input, develop a bold and aspirational vision for our city and its citizens (and revise the priority goals accordingly based on the vision). I would be interested in learning your thoughts on our current priorities, as well as your suggestions for other priorities the council should focus on.
Neighborhood revitalization – We have made progress on many of the strategies associated with neighborhood revitalization. However, as mentioned above, many of the strategies used to achieve priority goals do not include metrics that allow an assessment of success. For example, even though “Increase the rate of building demolition” has been achieved the past two years compared to several years past, the city is not keeping pace with the rate of blight making success of this strategy less obvious. The lack of a comprehensive neighborhood plan developed by community members is a substantial hinderance to the ultimate success of this goal, and one strategy that should be implemented soon is the creation of such a plan.
Grow, enhance and better prepare the local workforce – The city of Decatur continues to experience a reduction in its labor force. The percentage reduction in the labor force is even greater than the city’s population decline. As more people first decide where to live and then find a place to work, neighborhood revitalization takes on even greater urgency as a means of both enhancing quality of life and reversing population decline. Two additional strategies that can enhance our local workforce are expanded youth employment programs and reentry programs for those that have been formerly incarcerated.
Take downtown Decatur to the next level – This goal could be revised to foster growth of more of our destination areas within the city. City parks throughout our urban areas can become focal points for neighborhood events. Former retail centers are underutilized as they recover from the loss of a grocery store and other entities. There are opportunities to create distinctive destinations throughout the city.
Implement selected new technologies that will improve municipal service delivery – There is a significant need to improve the city’s website, social media platforms, and associated technology and apps for citizens to access information about the city. Whether it is finding city codes or learning about city initiatives such as COVID-19 funding relief for residents, the website and associated apps are of limited use. There is a need for significant improvement in this area with an emphasis on greater citizen engagement.
Implement new revenue initiatives and cost reduction measures – With the city’s population declining and expenses increasing, the city must find additional sources of revenue in lieu of raising taxes. A cannabis dispensary and other cannabis-related business will increase revenue and jobs in the city of Decatur. The city also has an opportunity to move toward energy independence. We can reduce our carbon footprint by establishing solar energy generation at the Oakley Sediment Basin. Finally, as climate change continues, the city has an opportunity to secure additional and exclusive water sources that may attract new industries seeking water security.
Collaborate with other stakeholders to create a coordinated plan for Lake Decatur management – The city of Decatur needs to implement the recommendations of the watershed plan and to increase our water supply in the face of global warming. Citizens can play an important role and there is a need for more citizen committees including one focused on global climate change and its predicted impacts to our region and one focused on lake management.
Create a bold and aspirational vision for the future of Decatur – As stated above, the priority goals should help drive a bold and aspirational vision. Even if all the strategies for each priority goal are achieved, it is still unclear what impact they will have without a vision. Developing a bold, aspirational vision that focuses on enhancing quality of life of the people who live here should be developed by early 2022 using a collaborative, public, citizen-driven process.
FOSTERING EQUITABLE RELATIONSHIPS SHOULD BE A NEW PRIORITY GOAL OF THE CITY COUNCIL
The city of Decatur is considered to have some of the largest racial disparities in the country. There are significant differences in median income, educational attainment, unemployment, and home ownership between black and white Americans in Decatur. There are also long-standing and shorter-term health disparities including differences in COVID-19 vaccination rates among races in our city. Of significant concern, much of the gun violence in Decatur is being committed by younger black males.
Strategies for fostering equitable relationships could include joining the Decatur Public School board in declaring racism a public health crisis; ensuring city council policy and city codes are not reinforcing racial disparities (i.e., failure to enforce requirements for face coverings during the pandemic may disproportionately impact races with different vaccination rates); acknowledging and addressing any racial disparities in policing; and providing a safe neighborhood for all citizens of Decatur (i.e., community policing initiatives, more neighborhood cameras, and mental health crisis counselors and social workers to assist families in non-criminal matters).
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss the city’s strategic priorities or other city issues with a council member, phone numbers and email addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE
An agenda and information about each agenda item for each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.