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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Planning sessions look to map future projects in Berlin

(Jan. 22, 2015) Town officials met with facilitator Christine Becker last Thursday, as Berlin kicked off a series of strategic planning sessions designed to build a municipal road map for the next five years.
The four-hour work session included brainstorming on what makes the town tick, as well as an exploration of Berlin’s future and a preliminary list of target issues.
“The Town of Berlin has gone through many transitions since its incorporation more than 150 years ago,” Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said. “It is apparent to everyone who is paying attention that Berlin is in the middle of another significant transformation economically, socially and culturally.”
Williams said the meetings served as “the first step in a communitywide process of determining where we go from here.”
“The guidance we are given through this process will not only greatly influence the future direction of Berlin, but will have a great deal of implying what is important to our family and what we collectively call our shared quality of life,” Williams said.
In determining the town’s next step, Williams said the town would connect with residents, people who work or volunteer in Berlin, and “regular guests.”
“It’s taken the active involvement and support of a significant number of people from every part of the family of Berlin to accomplish what has been done since the beginning of Berlin’s revitalization,” Williams said.
Williams also asked town staff to “lead by example” during the process.
“This is an exciting time for the town of Berlin,” he said. “Let us begin the process that will help us carve the path we will pave together that will benefit not only those who are members of the family of Berlin today, but for the generations that follow.”
Becker praised the Berlin staff at the meeting, which included councilmembers Lisa Hall, Thom Gulyas and Troy Purnell, as well as Town Administrator Laura Allen, Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen, Electric Utilities Director Tim Lawrence, Finance Director Natalie Saleh, Human Resources Director Jeffery Fleetwood, Planning Director Dave Engelhart, Water Resources / Public Works Director Jane Kreiter and Berlin Police Lt. Robert Fisher.
“I was impressed how much on the same page the group was,” she said. “There was a lot of consensus and a lot of consistent thinking.”
Rather than come up with a specific set of goals, Becker said the panel came up with a “shopping list” of issues facing the community.
“There are things like infrastructure, transportation, maintaining that sense of community, issues in terms of how to maintain and strengthen the electric utility going forward and economic development and jobs,” Becker said. “I don’t want to go into the community meetings already having things decided, so we tried to create categories that we’ll use to give participants a chance to weigh in on what they think some of the specifics might be, and then we’ll give them a chance to prioritize what the major areas they want the council to focus on.”
The next step in the process is a series of community meetings seeking public opinion on more narrow areas of focus.
In order to gain the full benefit of the strategic planning sessions, Becker said the town must continue to stay focused throughout the process while balancing the importance of public demand.
“If you’re going to invite community input, you have to make sure you’re willing to listen to it and that the outcome of your work shows that you listened,” she said. “It doesn’t mean every single thing you suggest is incorporated, but what they talk about and what they suggest will help shape the final strategic plan.
“If there are recurring themes over all four sessions about important needs, or even specifics, the community gets focused on a very narrow specific I’m not going to ignore it, we’re just going to say, ‘Okay, how does that fit into the bigger picture because this is very clearly on your mind,’” Becker continued. “My challenge is to keep the conversation at a higher level, not about, ‘I want, I want, I need.’ I hope the framework and the energy gets them thinking about not all the specific details, but the overall direction.”
Becker said the public meetings would mirror the inaugural session with town staff, if in a somewhat abbreviated two-hour timeframe.
“There will be a series of discussions where people spend some time in groups talking about what they love most about Berlin, then talking about what are you most worried about, what’s changing in Berlin, and then what do you see are the major issues,” Becker said.
From there, Becker hopes to have roughly 10 major focus areas on which the public can make comments.  
 “We would prefer that people not assume they can come for 10 minutes, say, ‘These are my top-five priorities and then leave,” Becker said. “One of the things we talked about is that we communicate that we hope you can participate in the entire dialogue, so that you participate in all the pieces. We want to make sure people understand it’s a process and a discussion over a couple of hours.”
Community meetings begin on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the multipurpose building on 130 Flower Street.
Additional meetings follow on Saturday, Feb. 7 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Berlin Town Hall, on Thursday, Feb. 12 from 6-9 p.m. at Buckingham Elementary School and on Saturday, Feb. 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the multipurpose building.
Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services offers free babysitting during the meetings on Feb. 12 and 21. Children may be dropped off a half hour before the meetings begin.