Shawnee taps Massachusetts firm to lead strategic planning and visioning for city’s future

Shawnee will undertake its a formal strategic planning process that looks at economic development opportunities in long-standing areas as well as undeveloped swaths.

The city council of Shawnee took first steps last night to create the city’s first formal strategic plan and vision for its future.

Shawnee city leaders voted 5-2 on a contract to hire Heller and Heller Consultants Inc., a Massachusetts-based firm, which will lead the process for creating a strategic plan, parks and recreation master plan, community survey and business survey. Heller and Heller will use the services of Strategic Government Resources, Stantec and ETC Institute for various  parts of the process. The city has budgeted $225,000 for the project.

Nolan Sunderman
Shawnee City Manager Nolan Sunderman

Councilmembers Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling both cast the two dissenting votes.

Jenkins said he wanted to table the discussion but he couldn’t make the motion quickly enough before the other councilmembers moved forward with approving the contract. Before the vote, he voiced his concern that preliminary information for the project lacked details on Shawnee’s vision for undeveloped areas of the city — especially as part of the conceptual stage of the strategic plan.

“I’m really wanting to see a part of this plan take a look at what areas of Shawnee have not been developed and what it would take to make those areas ripe for development,” Jenkins said. “Because to me, when you talk about investing in the community, that’s investing.”

Mayor Michelle Distler said she expects that undeveloped parts of Shawnee would be considered in the conceptual stage, even if it wasn’t specifically listed in the motion.

Shawnee Councilmember Eric Jenkins voiced concerns that conceptual information about the strategic plan lacked information on plans for undeveloped land in the city.

Gard told Jenkins there is still time to direct the visioning process after the city enters the contract. Jenkins stressed that he is concerned that adding information after the city enters into a contract could affect the cost.

Sunderman said city staff will be sure to incorporate economic development and capital improvements into the scope of the strategic plan during its conceptual stages.

“As Caitlin mentioned, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities, maybe the outcome of the discussion,” Sunderman said. “This is a little bit more high-level, the visioning, kind of where do we want to be in the future, as far as the specific strategic planning part of it.”

Gard said the city has lacked a formal long-term visioning document.

“We do annual work plans and annual budget discussion that have long-term visioning, but we’ve never brought community engagement,” she said, citing the project goals to incorporate input from residents and businesses through open houses, surveys, town hall meetings and focus groups.

City staff expect the strategic plan to take six months to develop, and a parks and recreation master plan to take 10 months to develop.

Jenkins said he was also disappointed that the selection committee to hire a consultant had no representation from the city’s public works department, which could have added input about public infrastructure needs for the future.

Members of the selection committee included Councilmember Matt Zimmerman, Ann Smith-Tate with the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce, City Manager Nolan Sunderman, Deputy City Manager Stephen Powell, Assistant City Manager Caitlin Gard, Parks and Recreation Director Neil Holman, Deputy Parks & Recreation Director Tonya Lecuru and Community Development Director Doug Allmon.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect an accurate vote that councilmembers Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling both voted in dissent on the item. Kemmling’s “no” vote was not declared after the vote count.