Town Council Committees Given Their Marching Orders: Be Proactive

Published 11:40 am Thursday, October 9, 2014

FARMVILLE — Farmville Mayor David E. Whitus didn’t bang a bottle of champagne off their hulls but when he launched his new town council committees he did give them a clear commission.

Be proactive.

Whether it’s regarding the budget, use of Town property, or public safety.

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And everything.

Look ahead. Keep the Town from having to react to situations. Anticipate. See potential problems and opportunities and offer strategies to solve the former and take advantage of the latter.

Mayor Whitus sought to help the committees achieve that goal by reducing them in number from about a dozen to just five.

He also asked council members what committees they preferred and tried to match them with their professional expertise.

“I think we’ve got everybody on the committee they want to be on,” he told council members when announcing the appointments. “We have five standing committees that I think most everything will fit under.”

During an interview with The Herald regarding the new committee structure and strategy, the mayor explained his thinking.

“I think this is probably the first time, at least since I’ve been on council, that we had a conversation with council members about where they would like to serve and sort of matching their backgrounds and talents with what the committee calls for,” Whitus said.

“For instance, people who are involved in finance or accounting,” he noted, “it only made sense to be on the finance committee.”

As for reducing the number of committees, Mayor Whitus said, “when you only have seven people and so many committees there’s so much redundancy…It just seemed to make it easier to reduce the number of committees down to five and combine some committees.”

The Town Assets and Resources Committee is actually a combination of the old Town Property, Street Committee and Water and Sewer Committee.

Three committees now a single committee.

“They’re all assets or resources of the Town, so combining all of that into one committee just made a lot of sense to me,” Mayor Whitus said.

But there are also a couple of newer committees combined with some old committees and they reflect citizen feedback during the mayoral election in the spring.

“One of the things I heard a lot about during the campaign, and heard a lot about from other council members,” he said, “is there’s a strong desire to have more community outreach and more economic development. But economic development is sort of a worn-out term and community development seems more fitting in today’s world.”

The mayor envisions community development and marketing encompassing a variety of related areas, including the farmers market, recreation, and several other things.

“But the real hope there,” he said, “is that that committee will do a lot of outreach and be proactive in soliciting businesses, jobs, just, in general, community and economic expansion.”

Mayor Whitus is clearly jazzed.

“This whole process excites me,” he declared.

As part of his proactive directive, town council’s Finance and Ordinance Committee will meet on a monthly basis “and look at the budget and where we are with the budget and look at ways of trimming expenses and enhancing revenue. And focus more on the trimming expenses than enhancing revenue,” Mayor Whitus said.

“There’s always that looming disappearance of BPOL that they have to be cognizant of,” he said, referring to one of the Town’s top two sources of income, the Business, Professional, and Occupational License tax.

The mayor wants the committees to be vigorous in their commitment and forward thinking in all aspects of their committee’s focus.

And, of course, proactive.

“One thing I asked them to do was be more proactive versus reactive. In the past, committees have sort of just dealt with items that were referred to them. Going forward I would like each committee to have a mission, a vision of their particular area and what needs to occur in that area,” the mayor said, “and report to council on a fairly regular basis.”

The Finance and Ordinance Committee, he said, “will certainly report monthly.”

Committee chairs will report their findings, what they are looking at as a committee, and bring those ideas to town council.

Meeting more regularly will also build better teamwork and effective functionality to the committees, he believes.

“That’s my whole point,” he said, “right there.”

Committees should also feel free to engage with the department heads in their areas.

“When public safety meets there’s nothing wrong with having the police chief present or the fire chief present or the president of the rescue squad,” Mayor Whitus reasoned.

“There’s nothing wrong with having people from those departments present at those meetings. Maybe not every meeting but certainly several times a year to talk about what’s going on in their departments,” he said, explaining, “it’s hard to know what those departments need unless you are engaged.”

The five committees, and their members, are: finance and ordinance (chairperson Jamie Davis, Donald Hunter and Greg Cole), public safety (chairperson Hunter, Tommy Pairet, and Sally Thompson), Town assets and resources (chairperson Pairet, Davis, and Dan Dwyer), community development and marketing (chairperson Thompson, Armstead Reid, and Dwyer), and personnel (chairperson Reid, Hunter, and Cole).

Time may be required for the committee changes to take full effect but the mayor sees the restructuring as genuine post-election change.

“I get asked all the time, ‘What’s changed? What’s changing?’” Well, there’s a lot changing but the public may not see it because…there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that’s not splashed on the front page of the paper.

“And it is a process,” he said. “It is a process.”