On the overhead screen was a black-and-white image of a bustling downtown Great Bend from the 1870s and the words “Mapping the Future.”
“Imagine what the founders were thinking about how the town was going to look,” Beth Tatarko told the room filled with City Council members and city department heads. When the city was founded in 1871 as an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railhead, did anyone see it evolving into a regional commercial destination?
Tatarko is with the Austin Peters Group, an Overland Park consulting firm hired by the city to guide it through a strategic planning process. She was in Great Bend Monday and Tuesday nights proctoring city officials in a planning retreat at the Events Center.
Nearly 150 years after that business district photo, officials are peering down the road at what they want Great Bend to look like three to five years from now. Over the course of two intense nights of brainstorming, they pondered their dreams and visions for the city in 2024, as well as more concrete ways to achieve those goals.
Prior to the retreat, there were one-on-one council member meetings with consultants, stakeholder group meetings with community groups and an online community survey. “There are so many good ideas,” Tatarko said.
Monday was dedicated to generating ideas for vision, mission and values statements.
A vision “is created more from the heart than from the head,” she said. “It is idealist and unbounded by time.”
Clustered around four tables, the attendees took time to break down this concept as small groups. Next, they presented them to the entire room.
“There are some common themes, right?” Tatarko said. Among these were visions of Great Bend being innovative, diverse, thriving, fiscally sound, proud and open for business.
“This is something we can use to craft a vision statement,” Tatarko said.
The same process followed for the mission. Such topics as better marketing, professionalism and customer service, fostering leadership, safety and promoting a high quality of life emerged.
“These help direct the city,” she said. “Ask ‘why do we exist? Who do we serve? How do we expect the community to be better as a result of our work?’”
Lastly Monday were organizational values. “These are bedrock principles and beliefs. This is how the city will conduct itself,” Tatarko said.
Words such as integrity, professionalism, accountability and team work came out of these discussions.
Tuesday night was less abstract and about the actions needed to make Monday night’s vision come true. First, the attendees met in small groups and delved into strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“Last night was kind of the beginning work,” Tatarko said. “This is going to be challenging.
And it was. They examined such things as abundant natural resources, caring people and city’s central location to such things as potholes, the need for more jobs and lack of trust in city government.
Drawing on community responses and the survey, they saw an image problem emerging, but this problem is not as bad as it seems. Sure there are challenges, but the city does have plenty of water, is not all made up of naysayers and isn’t always under the threat of tornadoes.
However, this led to looking at key priorities. “These can be areas which you are already strong in but you want to improve or capitalize on. These can also be areas in which your organization is weak, but you see a realistic opportunity for the future,” she said.
Next, “what is our plan of action?” Tatarko asked. “What goals lead us to the future? What specific objectives will help us implement these goals?”
Again, referring to the earlier meetings and survey, Tatarko compiled a list of top priorities. These ranged from infrastructure to city government to public safety to community appearance to social issues.
Small group discussions tackled these, formulating them into specific and achievable goals.
Just because there are goals and objectives in place, Tatarko said success isn’t assured. “There are organizational roadblocks.”
Such things as lack of accountability, commitment, buy-in, communication and resources are among these. Also, the city can focus on too many or too few goals and, perhaps, a goal is not tied to the long-term vision.
She said the Austin Peters Group will take all the materials and ideas from Monday and Tuesday night, merge them with the other results to create a draft of the strategic plan. This will be presented to the council in the first week of May.
“The council will make changes and adjustments,” she said. “A final plan will be presented two weeks following the first draft, unless it is deemed more time is required.”
It was this past December that the Great Bend City Council approved a contract with the Austin Peters Group of Overland Park for strategic planning at a cost of $10,867.50. The project got underway in January.