Planning forum goes digital with survey

Published 1:30 am Saturday, October 25, 2014

What plan will best enhance Vicksburg’s riverfront?
What’s the best way to tie in the Vicksburg National Military Park with the city’s other attractions?
What is the reason for the poor performance by the Vicksburg Warren School District?
For about an hour Wednesday at the Vicksburg Auditorium about 60 local civic and business leaders gave their opinions on those issues and others by pressing a button on a small electronic device.
The Vicksburg Planning Forum was an unusual program in which the participants didn’t discuss the issues. They sat down, had lunch and expressed their opinions electronically on the small voting device that closely resembled a remote control for a TV and registered their response to be downloaded on a computer.
Quinton Dickerson, co-owner of Frontier Strategies, which conducted the program, said the format of using an electronic voting device was to ensure the anonymity of the participants.
“Your answer will be just like you’re voting in a voting booth; we will not know how you voted,” he told the group.
The invitation-only event was developed by city officials to reach different areas of the community as part of the city’s input to its comprehensive plan, which is being prepared by the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District.
CMPDD will incorporate the forum results in the plan, which is a document that sets out plans for land use, zoning and the city’s growth. Elected city officials and city employees were not invited to participate.
Participants will receive a copy of the results, which will also be available at the mayor’s office in City Hall. No date was given when the report will be completed.
“We have a broad representation of the community here,” Community Development Director Victor Gray-Lewis said before the forum, adding about 100 invitations were mailed to people in the community.
He said the invitations were sent as a means to reach people in different areas of the community and bring them together as a group to consider the ideas presented.
“One of the elements of a comprehensive plan is the goals and objectives component,” Gray-Lewis said. “It was decided that it would be a good idea to get input from a broad group of community leaders to help determine the goals and objectives.”
He said the ideas and issues presented during the forum were compiled and developed from previous studies and surveys conducted by the city.
Among the issues presented during the forum included concepts to take advantage of the downtown area and the riverfront, expanding the port or building a new one, identifying problems with the education system, improving retail traffic downtown and whether to build a sports complex.
Written in the form of a question, each issue was accompanied by three to five responses listed alphabetically that were presented to the participants, who hit a corresponding key to register their opinion.
“I think it was very good,” said Dr. Robert Clingan. “Everything was well-researched. I think it was very helpful. It addressed everything in the city.”
Katie Feibelman said the questions asked during the forum “were relevant questions. It was a good program and I think a lot of people have been asking those same questions.”
“It was wonderful,” retired Brig. Gen. Robert Crear said. “It’s about time we had some input and helped give direction to city, and this was a great opportunity to do so.”

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About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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