Town officials and community members combined forces to create a collective, proposed mission and vision in an exercise during a goal-setting session in the Community Room at the Fort Myers Beach Library recently.
Roughly 40 attendees participated in the strategic planning process. The exercise determined strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from within the government organization and externally around the overall community.
"The exercise is a step toward the Council's consensus of what will ultimately be their direction for the Town," said FMB Town Manager Don Stilwell. "Once the Council has set the Town's vision, mission and goals, staff will propose objectives, which will be negotiated with the Council, that will fulfill the Council set goals."
Dr. Robert Lee, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, facilitates a strategic planning process during a goal-setting session between Town officials and community members at Beach Library recently.
Dr. Robert Lee, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, served as the facilitator to the group. He is known as an award-winning moderator for training webinars on local government issues for the Center for Florida Local Government Excellence at the Florida Institute of Government.
Dr. Lee was impressed by the collective sense of how a good mix of town officials and community members worked together towards one goal and their dedication of sticking with the assignment during the entire day.
"The people that came out were all very actively engaged all day," he said. "They completed what they set out to complete. For as many people and as many issues that they came up with during the group discussion, I thought they did it in a very respectful way, knowing that it is a community with many viewpoints. I was very impressed."
The participants put together a one sentence vision statement and a one sentence mission statement. The vision: Fort Myers Beach is a barrier island community dedicated to promoting a safe, vibrant "small town" and preserving our natural and cultural environment. The mission: The Town shall work cooperatively and collaboratively with its citizens, businesses, organizations and other governments to increase public safety, enhance our natural environment and cultural amenities in a professional and fiscally responsible manner and consistent with regulations.
Both statements will go before Council in August for official adoption.
"They also identified several goals to support the mission statement," said Lee. "One of the elected officials, (Councilwoman) Rexann (Hosafros) is going to wordsmith the goals and bring it back to the other elected officials. It's just a matter of putting it all in a document. The elected officials will give it a final review and adopt it."
In the morning, participants were grouped at tables and were asked to list external strengths, external weaknesses/liabilities, internal strengths and internal weaknesses/liabilities. They were asked to consider economic, technological, social, political and environmental factors in their decisions.
"It was inspiring to see so many people show up for the strategic planning session, especially in light of no one really knowing what to expect," said Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda. "This is a critical time for the Town and events like this where we have the opportunity not only to talk to one another but speak of shared concerns for the future of the town is enormously important. It's time for us to look at where we've been, where we are and where we want to go."
After each group provided their combined lists, the facilitator charted the results and hung them on a wall for all to see. Each individual group member was asked to add a green dot next to what they thought was a main priority and a red dot by what was a second priority.
Under internal strengths, council diversity with talented, experienced staff and advisory committees was a top vote-getter for main priority. For external strengths, diverse and talented citizenry lead in votes.
Staff turnover and lack of coordination and inconsistencies among staff members was labelled high in the internal weaknesses/liabilities category. Storm water drainage, lack of political clout and conflicting priorities between businesses and residents, especially in the downtown zoning district, were identified as top external weaknesses/liabilities.
At "halftime" of the session, Lee stated the process would be best used as a guide to help officials and community members put together their common direction.
"Once you have identified what your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are, you now have basis to say 'given our personal situation here on Fort Myers Beach, which direction should we take realistically and practically'," he said. "We are different. We have identified why we are different, what is unique about us, where we have concerns, where we have assets. Now how do we take that information and put together what direction we want to head as a town."
Councilman Alan Mandel stated the all-day workshop was beneficial.
"I thought it was a good planning session, and (Town Clerk) Michelle Mayher needs to be thanked for casting a wide net to ensure island-side representation," he said. "The draft vision and mission statements, which should guide Council, focus on public safety, environmental stewardship, cultural amenities and professional, competent service respecting regulations."
Residents, such as Annie and Tom Babcock, were encouraged to witness "so much interest and positive energy by Town leaders, staff members and a cross-section of islanders" as the group discussed the Town's vision and mission statements at this strategic planning session.
"It has been 19 years since the Town incorporated and this workshop helped to define what we want our Town to become," the Babcocks said through email. "Further discussion of goals, that will impact the upcoming budget process, will be done by staff and council. A foundation was built that should help start that process. Town Council, hopefully, will be able to use the insights provided by all the attendees, as they prioritize their work plan for the future of Fort Myers Beach. It was a rewarding day."