By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council discussed development of a long-term strategic plan, the future of the Economic Tourist Development Committee (ETDC), Veterans Day observances and seemingly everything in between at its Oct. 28 meeting.
The majority of the allotted agenda space was taken up by several previously tabled items to be brought before the board by Councilman Mac Carpenter, but the more controversial topics were once again deferred until the next regular council meeting, to be held Nov. 12. Among these items were more talk about the status of legal action on the Diane Pickett land deal, the city’s transportation concurrency policy, and a look at the city attorney’s agreement for services. Carpenter requested to table these items in order to ensure the public had sufficient notice.
With those items out of the way, renewed talk on the pros and cons of a long-range strategic plan for the city bore the brunt of the meeting’s length. Carpenter, the most vocal proponent of strategic planning, said the board members should give serious thought to their vision for long-term goals and then form or appoint a committee starting in January. Carpenter said the interests of both the city and its citizens would be well-served by beginning the planning process well before budget workshops began again late next summer.
“If we do come up with a strategic plan the budget process will be much easier and the discretionary funding process will be much easier,” Carpenter said. “The public will understand where the city is headed and what they can do outside of city government and city budget to help promote those goals and objectives. We need a vision. We need to know where we’re going.”
Carpenter suggested that continued airport expansion, downtown restoration, attracting new people and businesses to the city, and considerations for the forthcoming compressed natural gas fueling station should all be included in the strategic plan.
Councilman Ron Kelley was generally not supportive of too much long-range planning, as, in his view, the tendency was to accumulate “pie in the sky wishes” that fail to get carried out. Kelley said the main reason for this isn’t that the ideas aren’t good ones, but rather that the city is not able to do much more than it already is, given current budget limitations and other insufficient resources. For these reasons, any planning needs to be kept to a very practical level, he concluded.
“It’s one thing to write down all the things we like on a piece of paper, but if we don’t have the resources or funds, or in some cases the manpower, to do these things then it doesn’t become anything more than lots of wonderful ideas written down on paper,” Kelley said.
“While I like the idea of having a roadmap in place, I just don’t know that we’re quite ready to be making grand plans yet,” he added.
The Council also discussed at length the future of the Economic Tourist Development Committee, now in the third year since its inception. ETDC member Janie Griffith suggested changing the committee’s name as an indication of new direction from the Council as to whether the organization should focus more on economic development, promoting the city to attract tourists or hosting community events. The Council and the ETDC will hold a joint workshop on Nov. 19 to decide on a name change and to provide new direction for the committee in the coming year.
With the city’s annual Veterans Day observances coming in the next few weeks, the Council authorized some changes to the program. The board voted 5-0 in favor of allowing a helicopter flyover at the event by The Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark. The goals of the non-profit organization are multi-faceted, but the main aim is to educate the public about the contributions of Army aviation through restoring historical aircraft and to inspire young people to consider aviation as a career.
Additionally, the group will offer rides in its UH-1 Iroquois, more commonly known as the “Huey,” and AH-1 Cobra to the public. The Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark hopes to make public rides an annual event associated with the city’s Veterans Day observances. This year’s rides will disembark from the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport and will cost $50 for active duty military members, $55 for veterans and $60 for the general public.
Finally, in other airport-related news, the Council voted 5-0 not to send one of its number as a representative from the city to aircraft manufacturer Airbus’ assembly plant in Hamburg, Germany. The aviation firm, which produces roughly half the world’s jet airliners, will soon open its first U.S. assembly plant in Mobile, Ala. Airbus and many of its suppliers will host a coalition of economic development leaders and government officials from five Panhandle counties to a conference to be held in Hamburg come December.
The Council instead directed Walton County Economic Development Alliance Director Steve Jaeger to promote the city, along with the rest of the county, when he attends the overseas event.