Council members approved the expense in a 4-3 vote Tuesday. Council members Andrea Blustein, Susan Wilkerson and Wade Lnenicka voted against the plan while Teri Anulewicz, Melleny Pritchett, Ron Fennel and Charles Welch were in favor.
Crafting the city’s vision for the future will involve a nine-month process directed by Atlanta-based Market Street Services and will involve a 25-person steering committee along with several community outreach events.
“The purpose of this is to help answer and guide the question, ‘What does Smyrna’s future look like?’” said Ken Suddreth, community development director for the city.
Wilkerson and Blustein had doubts about the program.
“I think that the program has a tremendous amount of potential and could be a very good concept for the city of Smyrna, but just needed some further fine tuning,” Blustein said.
Wilkerson said she has concerns about how the city will be able to capture the vision of all 50,000 residents.
She also needed more information because, she said, the full council was not involved in discussions leading up to the vote.
Mayor Max Bacon disagrees and said the company made a presentation to the council that outlined the process.
“I don’t know what else they would’ve needed,” Bacon said.
“Visioning” programs have been conducted in cities across the country for at least the past 12 to 15 years.
Generally, what happens is an outside facilitator comes in with a white board and listens to feedback of what residents would like to see in their community. The city can then use this to shape land use and future growth.
In some cities, the studies sit and collect dust while in others they are more likely to get implemented.
A committee, appointed by Bacon in 2012, was responsible for determining how to create an all-inclusive vision for the city.
“I had concerns about the process,” Wilkerson said. “I didn’t feel that it involved the whole council, and I just felt like we could’ve spent more time talking about so that we all did understand it.”
The Atlanta-based company, Market Street Services, chosen to be Smyrna’s consultant was paid $200,000 by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce to complete an analysis that paved the way for the Chamber’s economic development arm, EDGE.
The Chamber also used a Market Street report to bolster support for the controversial transportation special purpose local option sales tax, better known as TSPLOST, which failed in 2012.
“The company that’s going to help us in the process, they’ve got a great reputation,” Bacon said noting some of its employees live in Smyrna.
Council members in support of the visioning initiative say it will help the city stay closer to the wishes of its residents.
“As a council, sometimes we think we know what people want, but maybe we’re not on the right track,” said Councilwoman Melleny Pritchett.
There are “a lot of different Smyrnas,” Councilwoman Teri Anulewicz said, that need to be brought under one umbrella.
“It’s where we sit down as a group, as a community, and say, ‘OK, where are we right now, where do we want to be and how do we get there?’” Anulewicz said.
An outside firm is needed to direct the plan, she said, to give a fresh perspective.
“I think it’s really important that we do have people come from outside the city to manage this,” Anulewicz said. “You need that bird’s eye view.”
Bacon maintains it’s a plan that will be put to use.
“The issue that I have, or the issue that I would have, is that if we do this study and we gather all this info from our citizens, if we don’t take action and do something with it … then I’d say yeah that’s sort of a waste,” Bacon said. “I think once you get the information, you need to address those issues.”