Three weeks ago more than 300 area residents converged on four locations across town to take part in one or more community forums and discussions on issues perceived to be confronting the town, part of an initiative known as Manchester 2020. On Thursday, April 11, residents and community members are being invited back to take part in the first of two follow up meetings to the initial one on March 11.
"This is essentially the second stage of a three-step process," said Lee Krohn, the town's planning director and zoning administrator, and one of the local organizers of the Community Visit led by the nonprofit Vermont Council on Rural Development. "In this second session, the VCRD staff has collated all the suggestions, ideas and concerns and made some sense out of them - and turned it into a coherent whole."
This time, however, the townspeople, not the 30 member resource team brought in by the council for the March meeting, will be calling the shots, Krohn said.
After the list of issues has been presented by Paul Costello, the executive director of the rural development council, townspeople will vote on which ones deserve priority and which are realistically within the town's grasp to do something about. A series of votes will be held amid the discussion to winnow the list down to a manageable number, he said.
The meeting will be held at Burr and Burton's cafeteria in the school's Rowland Building, the same location where the March 11 community dinner and evening discussion was held. The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. and is anticipated to end around 9:15 p.m.
Each person attending will get a certain number of votes to cast on particular issues to help determine which ones rise to the top of the list. Those attending can use all their votes in support of one issue, or spread them out over several, Krohn said.
Next month, sometime in early May - no definite date has been set yet - there will be a third meeting when the council on rural development will return with several members of the original resource team to help the community map out strategies for achieving those items tagged as high priorities. That meeting in May will also be an opportunity to challenge the community to see if people are willing to step up and help address those priorities, and link them up with the resources - human and financial; local, state or federal - to translate goals into realistic action plans, he said.
"The goal, in the end, is to help launch strike forces on the highest priorities to get things done," Krohn said. "It's not intended to be a 'feel good' study - it's not about pointing the proverbial finger at someone and saying 'they should do it.'"
"They" in this case, is "us," Krohn added.
For its part, the council on rural development will kick things off at the April 11 meeting by presenting a list of about 25 possible action items culled from more than 30 pages of notes developed during the March meeting, said Paul Costello, the council's executive director.
"What we'll do is walk through that list with community people reading each of them and then we'll basically structure the evening around a 'championing' session where people will tell us which thing, if it were done, would have the strongest and most lasting positive impact," he said. "We'll have a couple of rounds of voting to get down to the top eight big ideas, and another to get to the top four."
These 25 or so ideas drawn from the first meeting aren't large generalities but specific topics, that may include things like how to use river frontage, developing some sort of business incubator, or building bike paths, for example, Costello said.
"A lot of these issues won't surprise people, and a lot of them are issues that people have been talking about for years," he said. "But that doesn't mean they aren't good ideas."
This forum, and the one that follows in May, will be a chance for residents to rally to them as focal points for action, he said.
There will also be a "visioning session" as part of the evening, he said, where ideas will be pulled out and explored around the idea of what sort of community Manchester should strive to be, or what would be desirable.
The process is also set up to draw out members of the private sector to step forward and provide leadership, he added.
"Sometimes having the dialogue can encourage private sector leaders who were already thinking about them," he said. "The front story is 'what do we want to get done and how will we do it'?"
For more information about the upcoming meeting, call the Vermont Council on Rural Development at 802-223-6091, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their Web site is www.vtrural.org.