Aberdeen mayor Patrick McGrady and the four City Council members spent the better part of the day Saturday crafting a long-range vision for their city and setting major goals they want to achieve.
They produced a vision statement which encompasses the city's heritage, its position as a regional transportation hub and a desire for future excellence. They then homed in on three major goals involving quality of life, downtown revitalization and north Interstate 95 growth and encouraging businesses to locate and/or expand in Aberdeen.
In developing the vision statement, some of the catch phrases thrown out that appeared to resonate with the whole included: "safe at home; wealth of opportunity; a place people love to live; sustain and grow."
After more than two and a half hours, the group came up with: "Aberdeen: A place where people love to live...a vibrant and growing community with a proud history and bold future."
Aided by a facilitator, Erich W. Randall, a retired Army colonel and Ph.D, the five elected city officials hashed ideas and personal objectives as they sat around the table inside the city hall conference room. Also participating was City Manager Randy Robertson.
Randall, founder and CEO of On Point Strategic Leadership, LLC, of Norton Shores, Mich., talked about how to approach a vision statement and where such objections often fall short, such as "how can there be tactical excellence and strategic failure." Often, he said, organizations "treat the symptoms instead of the problem."
For a brainstorming session, he hooked the mayor and council members cell phones up to software that would record each person's response to questions and also collect key words from their statements. Some of the questions raised included why does the city exist, what are its extraordinary characteristics and what does Aberdeen want to do?
The vision statement, Randall said, would in turn provide the city staff "with strategic guidance." An example he gave is a Russian nesting doll, where the city's 16,000 residents are the outer doll, the mayor and council are the next and the staff is the inner doll. Another analogy, a wagon train, where everyone is going in the same direction and it's up to the leaders to get them there safely.
Discussing goals in general, four of the five responded on a scale of one to five –– where one is likely to be achieved and five is not likely to be achieve — with a 3 and one with a 4 — McGrady later saying he was the outlier.
Several council members said if the city continues on its current path, very little will be achieved.
"If we don't do anything with the path we are on, we'll still be fighting this fire and that one," Councilman Tim Lindecamp said.
So, they talked about transportation, sustainability, downtown revitalization, public safety, opportunity, technology, north I-95 development, and the stadium, among many topics, to arrive at the vision statement.
For instance, could the city become more walkable, or could the methadone clinic and parole and probation office that have come to dominate West Bel Air Avenue and Route 40 be moved somewhere else less obtrusive?
Several of those present said people using those facilities tend to hang around downtown and in the park, discouraging others from visiting the area and making if difficult for existing businesses to attract customers and employees.
Is the city safe? Most present said they believe it is, but there are perceptions it isn't. "There is no time that I feel unsafe [walking] from my home to the library with my child," McGrady said.
Councilman Steven Goodin said residents do need to be encouraged to take pride in their community. He said the "broken windows policing," encouraging property owners to fix up derelict buildings would encourage people to "buy in."
Lindecamp complained that there aren't enough activities for young people, a situation that was compounded when the parks and recreation center closed after the old high school building — which the city now owns — was declared unfit to use by the county.
Once the strategic vision statement was accomplished, the group was then asked to come up with three overarching goals, which Randall, the facilitator, likened to "lenses" through which future decision making will occur. These goals would in turn be boiled down into specific objectives.
After more discussion, the mayor and council came up with quality of life initiatives, development of two community centers and business/economic development,
In discussing future development, McGrady said the city should not just concentrate on downtown revitalization, but also on future development along Route 22 and in the stadium area north of I-95, including future annexations. He called them "nodes," as in downtown is "node one" and I-95 north is "node two."
There was, however, considerable disagreement about what should or can be done with downtown and how much resources to commit. Conversely, the five elected officials were in unanimous agreement that the city has to build the water storage tank needed to accommodate more development north of I-95.
Councilwoman Sandy Landbeck said she would still like the city to pursue the transit oriented development plan where building a new multi-model train station spurs more retail development. Lindcamp said he envisions downtown returning to a "Fells Point" like atmosphere when he was a young man and there were bars and restaurants in that part of town, "and we lived there."
McGrady and Roberston were skeptical, however, both saying a new train station is probably "20 years away," and the city manager adding that millions of dollars have been funneled by states into "main street" redevelopment projects that have fallen flat.
Also falling into the I-95 "node" was to bring a successful resolution to the Ripken Stadium management situation, while the group said eliminating setbacks and minimum parking requirements should be done downtown, along with working with the landlords of the methadone clinic and parole and probation office to move them somewhere else.
Much debate also centered on how economic development initiatives can and should be pursued. While Landbeck said there needs to be more retail, Robertson interjected that more jobs, no matter what sector, should be the goal.
Randall cautioned that goals "must be resourced," either by growing the pie or reallocating existing funding and manpower.
"If these are your priorities," the facilitator said. "They need to be supported."
"I think it was good," McGrady said of the session Monday. "There had not been much talking about high level goals since the  election."
McGrady said he feels there was consensus about what they decided, with only differences "in style, versus substance."
They also began developing timelines for implementing objectives under the broader goals, which the mayor said will be delineated in a summary report Randall is expected to compile.
The mayor also said he was happy the council members were in general agreement that they must foster growth north of I-95, as well as trying to revitalize the historic downtown area.