MORRISON – With councilmen split Monday night on whether the city should enter into an agreement to create a strategic plan – and one wondering aloud whether such a plan would even make a difference – Morrison’s mayor was called on to break the tie.
When it was over, Morrison Mayor Scott Vandermyde voted in favor of creating the plan, which will be headed up by Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies at a cost of $22,400 and will rely on residents’ input.
The council at its meeting last month discussed whether it wanted to proceed with creating a strategic plan that would guide city leaders over the next few decades. City Administrator Brian Melton at that time said no strategic plan was on file and he didn’t know when, or if, one had ever been created.
At that time he said the NIU Center for Governmental Studies has worked with many municipalities in the tri-state area to develop plans and it would take about eight to nine months to create a plan for Morrison. Council members and community stakeholders would be interviewed, and there would be a community-wide survey and a workshop or two or more. The center then would create a plan that would be submitted to the council for approval. Work most likely would start in February, Melton said at that time.
An in-depth discussion surfaced at Monday night’s council meeting before the vote, with Councilman Vernon Tervelt saying studies already had been done by Augustana College of Rock Island and St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.
“The only thing we ever accomplished out of that was the No. 1 thing people wanted in Morrison was a dog park,” Tervelt said. “Talking to a couple previous council people, they question why we’re doing this, also.”
When asked by Councilwoman Sidonna Mahaffey if findings had been brought back to the city from those studies, Tervelt said he couldn’t find the St. Ambrose packet but does have Augustana’s information.
“We didn’t really accomplish anything, I don’t think,” Tervelt said.
But Councilman Todd Schlegel, who is a newer council member, said a strategic plan is necessary and that it would benefit citizens, regardless of the city council’s makeup.
“I see this, as new on the council, as an outline for moving forward, not necessarily for us but for the future, for the city itself,” Schlegel said. “So if we’re heading down the right path, it doesn’t matter who’s on council – who gets voted on, who doesn’t run again, who retires – we’re still moving down that path. I don’t know if we’ve ever had that.”
Tervelt said other towns who’ve done this are larger than Morrison and questioned whether Morrison should spend money on it.
Schlegel said the dog park was a good thing that came out of the previous study. He also referenced a cell tower that the council voted down, and said a strategic plan would be a framework through which to look at things differently.
“I just want Morrison to progress into a brighter future, where people are moving in, where we can move to a different area where we’re having the amenities our citizens want and they can see our changes in our city,” Schlegel said. “I go to other cities and I’m wondering ‘why can’t we have this, this or this?’”
Mahaffey agreed that a strategic plan is needed to help council members so they aren’t “flying blind” when making decisions.
Councilman Gregory Kruse said he wanted to be more optimistic, but plans addressing growth often don’t produce that result.
“I have a hard time believing it,” he said. “It seems a little bit pie in the sky. ... Progress and hope and those kinds of things for Morrison are something that cost money.
“Times have changed in a way and Morrison is in such a difficult position because we are not surrounded closely by other communities,” Kruse said. “You got Sterling over there and Dixon and Rochelle and they’re all headed toward Chicago, well poor Morrison is just a little bit too far away to join that. And it’s a little bit too far away from Clinton and the [Mississippi] river so we can’t use the river. We don’t even have the Rock River here, the train doesn’t stop and they won’t fix Highway 30.”
“Excuse me for being a little bit pessimistic about the future and growing community here,” Kruse said. “So going and spending $22,400 is going to end up producing absolutely nothing.”
Kruse said repairing Morrison’s streets would “really make the community better” noting that there’s not enough money to fix them.
“But we have fixed some of the streets, Greg,” Schlegel responded. “We should have been fixing the streets 20 years ago but if we don’t have a framework how are we going to do that?”
Melton, who has lived in Morrison for 15 years, said he has never been involved in strategic planning in Morrison. Melton said the Augustana study was done by college students looking at the uses for Waterworks Park and was not a strategic plan. He did not know what the St. Ambrose study was about, but said that in 2019 an organization through Western Illinois University did a mapping program that was “pretty close to a strategic plan but was not a strategic plan for our overall community.”
“This council is charged with that responsibility,” Melton said. “This council is charged with laying out that roadmap for the future of our community. Whether you’re optimistic about it or you’re pessimistic about it, that is your obligation as a council to be part of that strategic plan. If we just want to die as a community because there is no hope for us, then yeah you’re probably wasting your time with a strategic plan.
“We don’t necessarily have to grow, but we have to thrive because there are 4,000 people that live here. I live here. I want to live in a community that is at least thriving, not necessarily growing, but thriving, so I would expect my city council to have some kind of vision, some kind of plan for the future in what our community wants.”
When the time came for a vote, Tervelt, Kruse and Councilman Harvey Zuidema voted against creating a strategic plan, while Schlegel, Mahaffey and Councilman Matthew Tichler voted for creating it. Councilmen Josh West and Kevin Bruckner were absent.
With a 3-3 vote, Vandermyde voted yes, breaking the tie and approving the creation of a plan with NIU’s assistance.