Council sets goals for upcoming years
The Washington City Council talked at length about its goals for the next two years at a work session Wednesday. The councilors met in the Washington Public Library, where Jeff Schott of the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Iowa guided them through a long-term plan for the city.
The council was one of three entities to set goals for the city. One was the city staff and the other was a focus group of Washington residents. Three focus groups met, each one consisting of eight to 12 people. The staff and the focus group prepared a list of goals for the council to consider, which the council examined and modified at the work session.
The council came to a consensus on the need to move forward with certain projects or policies in the near future. Nearly everybody agreed the city should create a task force to study how the city’s housing stock could be improved. Other popular ideas were developing a new industrial park, building a wellness park and establishing commercial fees for electrical and plumbing permits.
One of the things the councilors did was to look at how much progress they had made since their last meeting with Schott in January 2011. One of the council’s goals from that earlier meeting was to establish public trust.
Councilor Fred Stark said that his measure of public trust is the number of angry phone calls he receives and how often he is harangued in person. Stark said that he hasn’t gotten too many angry phone calls in the past few years. He suggested it was because the public has directed its anger toward the board of supervisors.
Mayor Sandra Johnson said that certain public spaces feel less safe than they did a couple of years ago. She mentioned Central Park in particular.
Councilor Bob Shellmyer said there is a group of people who congregate in Central Park at night. He said that the body language of the people is what concerns him and other “gray hairs.”
Councilor Mark Kendall, who lives and works on the square, said that, as a person gets older, they tend to have a different view of kids who hang out on the square at 10 p.m.
Councilor Bob Shepherd said the way to resolve the issue is to reach out to the people who congregate in Central Park.
One of the issues the council talked about at the goal-setting session in 2011 was remodeling the former library to move city offices there. The council has not talked about the issue much since then.
City Administrator Brent Hinson said the city has ordered a building study but has not moved forward on it. He said the police department is cramped in its current office and would like to move into other offices in city hall, which would mean moving some city offices to the former library.
Stark commented that the city has more pressing concerns than moving city offices.
Schott asked the council to make a list of its accomplishments in the past two years. Some of the things mentioned were hiring a new administrator, resolving budget problems and the demolition of the collapsed South Marion Avenue buildings. A few councilors also mentioned the improved business climate, which included the sale of the Hogslat building and the expansion of ACH Foam Technologies.
Schott asked if everybody in the room was satisfied with the council’s accomplishments in the past two years.
“It’s a long list of accomplishments,” Stark said. “You have to feel good about it.”
Shepherd said the council did all it could, and maybe even too much. He said the council might have pushed some projects too much and gotten the city into debt.
The council considered what it could improve upon in the coming years. Shepherd wondered if there was something the city could do about dormant homes. He said some homes are owned by banks that refuse to lower their asking price for a house even after it has sat empty for a long time.
Schott pointed to a recommendation from the focus groups, which was to make the town’s Hispanic residents feel like insiders, perhaps by expanding language services available to them when they interacted with city employees. Johnson said that about 15 percent of the town’s residents are Hispanic.
The council touched on the issue of economic development and infrastructure. Johnson said that one often overlooked economic development zone is the square. She said the city should encourage businesses to come to the square since the infrastructure is already laid.
Another issue the councilors debated was whether the city should coordinate large projects with the school district, so they do not occur at the same time. In particular, she wondered about whether the residents could pay for a new auditorium at the high school and a wellness park.
Shepherd said he was not interested in getting involved in the school’s issues. Johnson said the city had been criticized in the past for not working closely enough with the schools.
The councilors talked about whether they should partner with the schools in a unified fundraising drive. Hinson said that tying the projects together might help the city get a Vision Iowa grant but would probably not help it procure addition money from the Riverboat Foundation.