After retreat, Dover leaders prepare to move forward on vision

DOVER — The white board in the conference room at Dover’s City Hall was filled with ideas, all written neatly in brown marker and placed into three distinct categories by City Manager Scott Koenig.

It was precisely the kind of input from Dover City Council members and city staff that Council President Timothy Slavin was hoping for at a six-hour workshop that was labeled a “retreat.”

Mr. Slavin said it was important to get away from the staidness of council chambers and to have an open dialogue to form a vision for what city leaders believe to be the most important issues regarding the city’s future.

“It was a little more open discussion than the typical meeting structure allows,” Mr. Slavin said. “We’re very careful. We don’t take any (official) action on this.

“This is just an open discussion and the idea is that it generates ideas. From the ideas we will then vote up and down in open session what we want to do.”

Dover City councilman James Hosfelt Jr. speaks during a retreat with the City of Dover officials on Friday. )Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Larry Passwaters of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, facilitated the retreat, which concluded with a two-hour discussion that broke down the most important ideas into categories for the city.

The first of those three categories was Fiscal Health. One of the most talked about subjects during the day was to study electricity in the city and what it should do in regards to the future of its power plant, including having a discussion as to how it should proceed with an ever-changing electricity rate and demand environment with staff, experts and customers.

Dover City councilman James Hutchison Sr. speaks as councilman Scott Cole, center, and councilman William Hare, left, listen during a retreat with the City of Dover officials on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Under the Fiscal Health category, they also broke into subdivision categories for discussion: maintenance tax increases; fees; economic development (including an update of the city’s comprehensive plan) and business retention.

The second category was Communication and it was separated into: transparency; pathfinding; technology and citizen surveys.

Core Services made up the third category and was divided into: customer focus ethic; parks and recreation; utilities; public safety; infrastructure and possibly restructuring and separating departments.

Mr. Koenig said the discussion was well-received by city staff members.

“I think it went well,” he said. “It gives at least me and the staff some ideas of what the things are that are on everybody’s minds. We all sat in the same room and we all heard the same thing and as we developed the written context of it, now we can go back into our staff meetings and talk about it.

Dover City councilman David Anderson speaks during a retreat with the City of Dover officials on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We all heard it. What did it mean to you? What did it mean to the other people? It gives us a series of ideas to focus on as we’re working in the current budget, but also as we’re developing the next budget. It was certainly worth every minute that we spent together.”

In the morning part of the retreat, members of city council were asked to list two short-term and two long-term goals for their respective district.
It provided for some interesting ideas.

Third District Councilman Fred Neil said he would like to see a scoreboard put out by city staff on a regular basis that would give council members a chance to see the status of all projects, including empty city-owned buildings, job openings’ status and complaints pending with estimated completion or resolution dates.

“How many complaints do we receive from our constituents?,” Mr. Neil said. “When were they received? Are they resolved? When are they resolved? Which ones remain open to come back on our complaint list?

“Job openings have been a sticking point. While these show up along with construction projects during period budget reports, it would be very helpful if we can electronically take a look at a scoreboard to see where the city stands on complaints and projects and see when the projects will be completed or complaints resolved and hires made.”

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., a Fourth District representative, said he would like to see additional strategies to increase the flow of income for the city and new innovative incentives to enhance downtown décor and parking-space availability.

Most of the councilman said they were in favor of a review of all of the tax-exempt properties located in the city, saying that they supported receiving some funding from these entities for the protection they receive from the police and fire departments.

First District Councilman James Hutchison said that he would like to see a more open line of communication among all city departments and to see some possibly lucrative businesses interested in opening in Dover put on a “fast track” through the planning process.

Councilman Scott Cole, of the Third District, enjoyed hearing his fellow councilman’s myriad of ideas.

“I think this is something that was needed,” Mr. Cole said. “I think that sometimes we’re kind of reactionary and it’s nice to be proactive. We’ve got a vision and it helps to have a great staff and it kind of gives them a vision, too.”

Second District Councilman Brian Lewis was unable to attend the retreat due to his job responsibilities, but sent a list out of what he thought were the most pressing issues facing Dover.

Mr. Lewis said he thinks there should be more accountability with administrative staff and to either put Mayor Robin Christiansen in charge as the CEO where all departments report to him and to the city council or all departments report to Mr. Slavin and he report to the full  council.

Mr. Slavin said he would like to see city staff develop a roadmap for starting a business in Dover, which would thereby streamline the process.
While none of the ideas proposed are written into stone, it does give city leaders a possible navigational course for the future.

That’s all Mr. Slavin was hoping to achieve with the retreat.

“I was very pleased with it,” said Mr. Slavin. “I think that any organization, especially a city government like this where the council members are part-time, we need a moment to hit the pause button.

“It gave us a chance to not deal with the day-to-day issues just for a few hours and really kind of look downstream at what the long-term and near-term issues are facing the city in order to give staff the direction they need.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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