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Vision 2040 effort using chalkboards to gather public comments

James Gjerde, 7 1/2, watches as his mother Debbie, of the Twin Cities, jots down an idea Thursday on the “Wish For Our Community” chalk boards set up at Saulsbury Beach during the 4th of July celebration in Spicer. The Vision 2040 committee developing a future “roadmap’’ for the greater Willmar lakes area is circulating three traveling chalkboards to solicit ideas. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- The Vision 2040 committee developing a future "roadmap'' for the greater Willmar lakes area wants residents to write on three traveling chalkboards what they would like to see in their community during the next 20 years.

People have already begun writing comments on the 4-by-8 chalkboards being placed by the committee at various area locations, including the Willmar Library during Willmar Fests, the Willmar Fire Station, and Saulsbury Beach during Fourth of July in Spicer.

Other potential locations will be Becker Market, Affiliated Community Medical Centers, Jennie-O Turkey Store, Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building, New London and the Kandiyohi County Fair.

Committee members say the chalkboards help them collect comments and ideas in the broadest way possible.

"We're trying to get them out and around the community so that there's various opportunities and we get different demographics and different populations,'' says committee member Charlene Stevens, Willmar city administrator.

"All three of them will be placed together in three languages and give people an opportunity to tell us what they think in the community, from better restaurants, more recreation, extended library hours,'' she said.

Other than monitoring for obscenities, committee members will not alter or change what's written. Comments may be anonymous.

When the boards are full but before the comments are wiped away, committee members will take photos of the comments, which will be sent to Next Generation Consulting of Madison, Wis., the firm facilitating the Vision 2040 process.

The process has included meetings with city, county and school officials, professionals, senior citizens, Latino and Somali residents and others. Also, four public meetings are set July 23-25.

Committee members say not everyone has the time or inclination to attend a meeting and the chalkboards are another way for community members to be involved.

Committee member Doug Allen, Ridgewater College president, said people are writing all kinds of things. A few examples: "More opportunities for children to work. More running places. Do what is right. More restaurants. Respect for all. More senior housing.''

"It's really kind of a fascinating way to get people's input, and to see the diversity of ideas that people have for the community is pretty exciting,'' Allen said.

The Vision 2040 process was launched following completion of the Vision 2020 effort that leaders in Kandiyohi County developed in the early 2000s to envision where the community would be in 20 years. The effort spurred development of the YMCA, the community pool, the combined law enforcement center, the community's effort to develop Latino entrepreneurs and business owners, and many other important regional initiatives.

Allen said a criticism of Vision 2020 was that getting input of youth was difficult.

"This is a way for us actually to go to people and say, 'Hey, we want your input,' and to allow them to do it without requiring anything formal,'' said Allen.

The committee and the consultant will glean common themes from the comments. The results could lead city government to take certain actions and may spur an entrepreneur to offer a business opportunity.

"If people say they want more restaurants, is that telling us that there's not enough to do?'' said committee member Joanna Schrupp, who handles business development at MinnWest Technology Campus.

"It allows us as community members to be involved in the process and this is your opportunity to express your wishes of what you want your community to look like and seeing what our major themes are and maybe what we're not touching in town,'' said Schrupp.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150