Q&A: Arts Center…and then some

Recently, I posted the latest update on the Feasibility Study for the Arts Center. On Facebook, I received an inquiry about it. I am posting that with my response:

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In addition, I would like to elaborate a bit:

Certainly, we want to be responsive to citizens. In fact, greater citizen participation is one of my goals for the city. And really, that’s what the feasibility study is about too: first we held an event at the school building and invited the public. Mr. Knudsen and the Planning Commission led citizens through a SWOT analysis. Early this year, Mr. Knudsen shared the results from that analysis. Overwhelmingly, the community expressed interest in a cultural/arts center. From there, we made the decision to do a feasibility study—again by seeking citizen participation.   As you know, the study team is comprised of volunteers with expertise in a number of areas relevant to determining if and how an arts center at the school might be feasible. I believe in data-driven and evidence-based decision-making for long-term planning. The feasibility study puts that belief into action.

Then, I received a follow-up reply that brought up a few different issues, and I’d like to address each. There’s not quite enough room on Facebook, though, so I’ve responded here on the #Jenn4Ward3 blog. Here is the follow-up reply I received followed by my response:

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“What about bringing the Public Works Department up to par with equipment?”

Once we became aware of just how bad the situation in Public Works was, solving the problems that stemmed from years of short-term “band-aid” solutions and poor (or lack of planning) became a top priority. In fact, it was the most-discussed item during this year’s budget workshop meetings—and we spent a great deal of time considering the options brought to us by city staff, the experts charged with researching and recommending options in their respective departments. There was no easy solution. We chose (unanimously) the best solution for meeting the City’s needs. If equipment alone would solve the problem, we could have made budget decisions to “bring public works up to par with equipment” “in house” as opposed to privatizing services; unfortunately, as I have explained previously (here) , it’s not just about money for equipment—and it’s not just about yard waste, nor can it be solved simply by adding some employees. The problem we faced was much bigger and more complex than that.

What about some kind of accreditation for the Police Department?

It is my understanding that the PD is seeking to be re-accredited by the state after having allowed that accreditation to lapse earlier this year.

What about the hiring situation for the PD?

We recently hired two new PD employees: 1 in Dispatch and 1 for Patrol. We also promoted two employees at the PD: one from Patrol to Sergeant and 1 from Dispatch to Patrol. The PD’s number one focus for personnel right now is strengthening road patrol. This is a critical need—one Interim Chief Moore is working diligently on (we are currently in the hiring process on several open positions). And Council plans to help him from our end to achieve that goal. That’s why we recently took up the issue in our meetings. It is important to note, however, that solving this problem will take time for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s not a problem that happened over night, so it’s not one that will resolve over night. Since 2012, we’ve had a turnover rate that is about twice the national average. Pinpointing why is important—but it’s also not easy. And realistically, there isn’t usually only one reason why. And that means any solution must be multi-faceted. We have to be sure that whatever we do, we solve the real problem(s) and not just the consequences (i.e. understaffing).
  2. This isn’t just a Simpsonville problem. Police Departments across our region, our state, and this entire country are facing issues with retention and recruitment. Some are understaffed much more than we currently are. That doesn’t make it ok for us—which is why City leadership must make finding and supporting solutions a priority in 2017. We have, as noted above, recently committed to that.
  3. It is a problem that will require some amount of funding. That means we need to be prepared to discuss money at the beginning of next year. And that’s I moved that “Council charge the City Administrator with researching options for effective police recruitment and retention strategies/programs and make recommendations to Council by the first budget meeting of 2017.” The Committee of the Whole voted 6-1 (with Mr. Graham dissenting) to move forward with this. At the Business meeting, we voted 6-0 (Mr. Graham absent) to get moving on it. As I’ve said multiple times, I am a huge advocate for engaging in long-term planning and data-driven, evidence-based decision-making. I feel very strongly that to plan long-term, we must have all of the relevant facts, evidence, and expert feedback possible. Because Mr. Dyrhaug will begin working on compiling that now, we’ll be able to make a well-informed, evidence-based decision when we have our budget workshops next year.

I will conclude by saying that I believe the role of city council is to foster quality of life for all citizens by ensuring the city:

  1. Provides first-rate services (fire, parks & recreation, police, and public works);
  2. Is fiscally responsible (with a keen awareness of how decisions impact taxpayers);
  3. Promotes economic opportunity;
  4. Supports neighborhood vitality; and
  5. Commits to community and cultural programs and services.

I do not think that as a city we can focus only on one area to the exclusion of any other—nor do I think having more than one project going at a time means that any other project is somehow automatically less important. The feasibility study for an Arts Center doesn’t mean that PD Recruitment & Retention is somehow less important. Just as the dire situation in Public Works does not make funding the PD any less important. You asked about priorities, and I’m glad because priorities are important. But we cannot even begin to prioritize until we have the information necessary to make well-informed decisions.

As for the Arts Center, we’ll receive the final report and recommendation early next year—when all the facts, including the financial analysis, are in. And then, we’ll have decisions to make. We’ll also receive the report and recommendation on Police Recruitment and Retention, and we’ll have decisions to make there, too. We’ll receive a lot of other information, and we’ll have a lot of decisions to make; a lot of ranking of priorities will happen. My pledge—as always—is to make my votes after doing my homework and with the best interest of Simpsonville in mind.