The city of Vermillion wants you

The city of Vermillion wants you by David Lias The city of Vermillion wants you.

People interested in serving on a committee to study the ongoing city hall issue in the community are urged to contact city administrators.

The decision to form a public committee that will provide virtually all input to the city council on the city hall issue came after a lengthy discussion and a change of original plans at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Aldermen listened to public input and changed course on their future planning of what to do next concerning the issue.

Mayor Roger Kozak and City Manager Jim Patrick noted that a needs assessment by an architectural firm is needed to provide information to the city council.

The assessment wouldn't single out a particular building. Rather, Kozak said, it would give aldermen an idea of the space needs that would be required to meet city staff requirements in a new or remodeled city hall.

Patrick initially recommended that the city council solicit proposals from architectural firms that would be reviewed by city staff. Those staff members would then recommend to the council to award a contract to a firm for review and modification, as appropriate, of the program needs assessment and various courses of action prior to the next public information session sponsored by the city.

Kozak emphasized that there would be a minimum of four public input forums held to help guide city staff in their decision-making process.

"There is nothing here that excludes any citizen involvement," Kozak said. "It's just that the process has not been defined to include every absolute and final step. I don't want to give the impression that anything here tonight excludes the public from being involved. It's just that we don't have that many details in here."

The mayor noted that one of the themes that came out of a recent public meeting hosted by the Vermillion Conflict Resolution Center is to involve citizens in the city hall process.

"I just want to reiterate that this would be part of the process," said Alderman Dan Christopherson. "I certainly agree about involving people who are affected or who are critical of the process. We need to get that involvement early on. We need to be sensitive to the needs of the people, and if we can get them involved early on, I think there will be a lot less controversy."

Alderman Jack Powell noted that the city council was criticized at the meeting hosted by the VCRC for not having a proper needs assessment in place when it approved a resolution last fall to purchase the Community First Bank building.

That decision was referred to a public vote, and overturned by Vermillion citizens.

"To have a meeting before we do any assessment � it seems we've already done that," Powell said to Christopherson. "And we were criticized because we hadn't done it. I'm a little confused by your request."

"I think even the VCRC indicated that something else needed to be done to build consensus," Christopherson said. "We have a report from the VCRC, but we don't have consensus from the public."

"You're talking about involving the public," Roger Jeck told the aldermen, "but unless you actually have the public involved on a committee, it still seems like it's not quite involving the public. In other words, it seems like you are

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putting a package together and presenting it to the public and selling it to the public instead of having the public be part of the package-making process."

Kozak noted that citizen input through the use of task forces has been utilized by the city in many instances, including the development of The Bluffs golf course and housing development.

"It wasn't up front immediately; there was a lot of work done, but eventually at the appropriate time � and I can't tell you the appropriate time, that's eventually what a professional will do is suggest when that should occur � but it was done with The Bluffs golf course," he said.

Public groups have studied everything from parking to traffic flow in the city, Kozak said.

"There's a long history of involving the public," Kozak said. "Right now, this proposal before us says a minimum of four public meetings. We don't know what that format will be, but we're going into it up front saying there will be public involvement."

"We should start at square one and have citizen committee now to look at things," Jeck said. "That doesn't cost you a nickel to have a citizen committee, whereas an architecture firm I'm certain is going to cost us."

"I think that's what we want to do from a professional standpoint," Patrick said. "The recommendation is to hire an architect that we can work with to revalidate the needs that we have for city hall, and then to work with citizens in public forums to determine what their needs are and to explore options.

"I am proposing to council that we hire an architect as our facilitator that can lead us through a consensus building of what our options are and what is best suited for the city of Vermillion," he said.

Patrick said once a needs assessment is completed, it is appropriate to go the public and get input on their needs and desires for city hall.

"That comes back to council for approval, and at that point, the architect starts going through the options that are out there, whether it be renovating this place, tearing this place down and building new, going to Community First or going to a third site."

"A forum is different from being on the committee that chooses and steers the architect and professional," Jeck said.

"I've never done this before, but I don't see a huge disadvantage to having the citizens in as early as possible," Alderman Tom Davies said. "It might add credibility if they get to participate in the selection process.

"That makes your job more difficult, I understand, because you have to take other perspectives in," Davies told Patrick, "but I kind of like the idea of having citizens in up front."

Kozak agreed that a person who is not an elected official or a city staff member could bring a different perspective to the process.

"That might not be the way you normally do things," Christopherson said, "but I think we're going to have to do things differently to build a consensus that we need to get this project moving ahead."

Kozak suggested that the city run advertisements encouraging people to submit their names for consideration to serve on the city hall advisory committee. Aldermen agreed to limit the committee to no more than 10 members and to try to get people with varied backgrounds and talents to serve to provide balance to assist with the city hall planning process.

The recommendation made by the advisory committee will eventually be provided to Patrick, who will present it to the city council for consideration.

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