FAIRHOPE, Ala.—The deadline is fast approaching for those who want to have a voice in the first stage of the city's participation in the Alabama Communities of Excellence program, which is geared toward helping communities develop and implement …
FAIRHOPE, Ala.—The deadline is fast approaching for those who want to have a voice in the first stage of the city's participation in the Alabama Communities of Excellence program, which is geared toward helping communities develop and implement strategic plans for growth.
The first step in the three-stage program is to compile a community assessment, with forms completed by the public due Aug. 9.
“The community assessment portion of this process is the most important piece,” said Sherry Sullivan, director of community affairs and recreation. “It will help the mayor and City Council know where we are and where our citizens want us to go. It will be a great tool for future planning.
“The assessment provides input from citizens on everything from planning, tourism, health care, transportation, historic preservation and education,” she said.
The community assessment forms can be completed online or handed in at any city office. Residents are asked to place the completed assessment in an envelope addressed to the attention of Sullivan. The forms are available at the city's website, Facebook page, on Google docs, and at all city buildings during regular working hours, as well as at council meetings.
“It gives us a background and an understanding of what the citizens have to say about the community,” said Brandon Bias, a community planner with Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood in Birminghan, who is the team leader for the Fairhope program, referring to the community assessment tool.
The three-phase program typically takes about two to three years, Bias said, with the second phase focusing on strategic planning and developing a leadership program, and the third devoted to updating the city's comprehensive plan.
“The first phase is where we come in with a team of volunteers (of) different backgrounds and professional careers to look at different aspects of the community and provide a snapshot of the current state of the community,” he said.
The team of about eight members will come to town for a two-day visit in September, including an open meeting at 9 a.m., Sept. 6, at the Fairhope Civic Center.
“We'll have a short presentation from the team of what we learned from the assessment tool,” Bias said. “The various team members will talk about their different focus areas and what their backgrounds are. And then we'll break into small groups around the focus areas.”
An assessment report will be produced and presented to the city, which is planned for the end of the year, he said.
“The city applied because it is a good way to get a thorough community assessment and some assistance with strategic planning which the City Council had just started discussing,” Sullivan said. “This process will tell us what we are doing right, what we can do better, and how we can move forward to ensure our success.”
In 2008, a council-appointed committee undertook an extensive strategic-planning process and produced a report, but it never engaged the public with a series of open meetings, as it had planned.
“Any city plan, needs community support,” Sullivan said. “Making our residents, business owners and community leaders part of the process only ensures the success of the plan because it is their plan. The ACE process involves the community working together with the City. Without community support this process will not work.”
Fairhope is one of six cities selected this year for the statewide program. For more information on the ACE program, visit alabamacommunitiesofexcellence.org, and about Fairhope's community assessment, call 251-990-0218.
This year's class of ACE cities statewide:
Other local cities going through the ACE process include Gulf Shores, which was officially designated in 2007 and Foley, which earned its official designation last year.