Manassas Council candidates want more public input to Strategic Plan

The following is a Potomac Local article from October 4.

The city’s strategic plan — a document that states what specific things want to see in their community, from better schools, sidewalks, and new businesses — was a topic in the Manassas City Council Candidates Forum.

It’s been 12 years since a panel of city residents gathered to talk about how the city should update its plan that, according to the last update in 2012, focuses on education, public safety, housing, and redevelopment, economic development, and transparency in government.

Republican turned Democrat Mark Wolfe, whose running for re-election on the City Council, says this issue separates the GOP and their Democratic counterparts.

“This wasn’t an issue until we [Democratic candidates] raised it in the campaign,” said Wolfe. “It is vital…you cannot have a functioning city without having this kind of ongoing citizen input into the goals and measurements of government, particularly when you have the growth we’ve experienced in the last 10 years.”

The Strategic Plan is a short set of immediate goals that, when paired with the city’s overall Comprehensive Plan, provides direction to the City Council on how to govern. It’s been updated incrementally within the past two years, said City Manager Patrick Pate, as residents told members of the City Council at town hall meetings and in surveys what they wanted to see in their community.

Unlike neighboring Prince William County’s Strategic Plan Committee, made of county residents meeting since February discussing how the county should grow, Manassas has no such public group.

“Citizens time does happen at every city council meeting, but it is good to have more of an input from neighborhoods with different wants and needs,” said Theresa Coates Ellis, a Republican seeking her first term on the City Council.

Democrat Pam Sebesky sits on the city’s School Board and is seeking her first term on City Council, also called for more resident involvement in deciding the city’s future.

“It’s a big reason why I’m running for this office. We have to know what community wants and commit to what the community wants,” she said.

The lack of a strategic plan is what, in part, propelled residents to form the city government and separate from Prince William County 40 years ago.

“We became a community in the 1970s and, as I understand it, it was because people wanted a better focus on education and public safety,” said Pate.

Pate said the new Baldwin School under construction next to Osbourn High School, set to relieve classroom overcrowding and opening in 2017, is an example of the city addressing the needs of students, as outlined in the education section of the plan. New electronic signs at on roadways leading into the city are used to create a sense of place, as also outlined in the plan, added Pate.