Debates next step in vision process

Moving ahead with chamber talks

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Editor’s note: This is one in a series.

The mayor, Dunn City Council, department heads, engineers and facilitator Matt Zapp spent Friday and Saturday in a budget planning retreat in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“We’re not gallivanting today,” Mayor Oscar Harris said in opening the retreat.

The main purpose of the retreat is to give Steve Neuschafer, the city manager, direction for creating the fiscal year budget which starts July 1. It also gives him guidance in other areas which costs money.

Also on the table for the elected officials was the question of — “Do we want to partner with the chamber to form a vision plan?”

The short answer was yes. But that took some discussion and help from Mr. Zapp, who is also the Benson town manager. His goal was to keep the group on focus and to help elected officials to arrive at consensus.

Tuesday night Matthew Smith, speaking on behalf of the chamber and knowing the council was going into its budget retreat, asked the council to partner with the chamber in forming a vision plan. Specifically, the chamber wants to hire a consultant for $50,000 to $75,000 to help the groups do that.

Not so fast, the Dunn Council said this weekend. First, the group wants to know more specifics about the chamber’s plan.

Dr. David Bradham, newly-appointed council member, was the first to jump in on the discussion.

“If we don’t take steps now, we’ll be in the same place,” he said.

The chamber’s initiative began 18 months ago when the chamber formed an image and vision task force committee. Following that, roundtable meetings were held with leaders from Campbell University and large employers in Dunn. Also, written comments were collected from builders and real estate agents. Suggestions ranged from beautifying the entrances at U.S. 421 and public transportation, to housing growth and more retail to attract young people. The impetus for the project appeared to stem by the reputation of the schools in Dunn.

Mr. Smith said the chamber is willing to pay up to $20,000 as its contribution for the consultant fee.

Both council members Buddy Maness and Chuck Turnage said they would have liked to have known about this sooner.

“I first heard of this Tuesday night at the council meeting,” Mr. Maness said.

“I didn’t get any feedback from the chamber during those 18 months,” Mr. Turnage said.

Mr. Maness said he has a lot of questions.

“What is this vision plan going to be? What is Dunn going to get out of this and how are we going to use it?” he said. “For me $50,000 is a lot of money.”

“Regardless of the Dunn Area Chamber of Commerce, we need to have a vision in the City of Dunn as city leaders,” Dr. Bradham said.

Mayor Harris said there had been a vision plan before, but it expired. This plan would be for at least 10 years in the future.

“We’re thinking about 2029 and not 2019,” he said. “If not now, when?”

As the discussion went on Mr. Zapp said, “It’s important that everyone here today sees the necessity of a long-range plan.”

The group members agreed they do.

City attorney Tilghman Pope suggested that the next step is to meet with the chamber, identify other partners and find out how a consultant is able to help.

“I want to know what are we doing, what are we shooting at ... before I say who we will partner with,” Mr. Maness said.

Those partners should not be selected until the city reaches out to the chamber, Mayor Harris said.

Mr. Zapp intervened again.

“Is the anticipated next step to go to the chamber?” he asked the group.

Mayor Harris offered a proposal — the mayor, two city council members, city manager and the town clerk as the record keeper would “go to the chamber to start a dialog.

“We need to find out what they are talking about,” he said.

The group agreed.

Dr. Bradham, whose wife is a former chamber president, was the first to volunteer to serve.

Dr. Gwen McNeill, a first-term council member, also volunteered as some of the more veteran council members indicated they may not be able to have the time to commit to it.

“I think you bring a fresh perspective,” Mr. Maness told Dr. McNeill.

So this “discovery team,” as Mr. Zapp called it, will report its findings to the rest of the board via the town clerk, Tammy Williams, who is the former chamber director.

Mr. Zapp called it a “very solid plan.”

In the portion of the event summary at the end, a discussion was held about holding the retreat out of town. It was expected to cost between $15,000 to $20,000. And there have been criticisms about it.

Mr. Maness said the group was able to resolve long-range issues.

“I really believe it is the most productive retreat in the last 15 years. Part of that is not being pulled away from city business,” Mr. Maness said.

“Planning is critical to the success of any organization,” Mrs. Williams said.

“If you don’t have a vision, you perish,” Mayor Harris said.

“When we are in town, we seem to be distracted,” Dunn Police Chief Chuck West said. “I saw the focus, I saw a lot more achieved.”

“It’s a small investment in this two-day period that will save millions of dollars in the City of Dunn,” Mr. Zapp said.

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