Understanding that prior public outreach initiatives had not worked in securing a clear understanding of a shared community vision, the town developed new engagement programs designed to re-build relationships, strengthen communication, and work together to establish this shared vision.
The past five years have seen numerous engagement programs established to address everything from planning and zoning regulations, to public safety concerns and environmental mandates. The Town has wrestled with creating a vision and community pride through an ever-evolving and growing community, but the efforts are finally paying off and a shared vision is beginning to emerge. In addition to maintaining these programs, Town Council voted to expedite the 10-year Comprehensive Plan update and to turn the planning process over to a forum of demographically diverse citizens to solicit community feedback, research options, and ultimately develop the Town’s long-term plan.
For the Comprehensive Plan Forum, the Town demonstrated intentional efforts to inventory the diversity within the community, identify gaps in representation, and act to fill those gaps including all identities in the decision-making process. The Town developed a method for selecting the nearly 40 individuals to serve on the new Comprehensive Planning Forum. This critical body is responsible for guiding the development of the town’s next 10-year Comprehensive Plan. Regarding the process, staff members divided the community up into neighborhoods with roughly equal population, then they divided the hundreds of applicants up by these neighborhoods and removed personally identifiable information from their applications. Planning Commission members were then presented with applicants’ demographic information and their reasoning for wanting to participate. Commission members intentionally ensured racial, generational, and gender diversification in their selection of forum members. With a focus on applicants’ age, sex, race, qualifications, and interests, the resulting Comprehensive Plan Forum boasts representation from every demographic group in the population, including representation from adjacent historic African-American post-Civil War settlement communities that aren’t technically incorporated into the Town of Mount Pleasant. In fact, the process was so successful that the racial diversity of the forum is greater than that of the actual population.
Capitalizing on the success of existing outreach programs, the Town decided in 2015 to expand their citizen engagement efforts. The first step in this expansion was an online citizen survey, which asked respondents to rate their current engagement level, identify their preferred engagement method and to provide their opinion of potential engagement tools. Utilizing these results and feedback from group meetings and social media, Town officials developed a Government Outreach Strategy.
The Town of Mount Pleasant Government Outreach Strategy developed four main programs to meet the needs of community members at the specific times of day each group was available. By scheduling programs at different times- early morning, mid-day, and evening, attendance at events increased and groups previously disengaged now had a voice. Town officials met community members in their own spaces, and quite literally brought Town Hall into the living rooms, churches, and businesses o Mount Pleasant.
The opportunities to participate in shaping the community have never been more plentiful. Formal engagement opportunities include:
Informal opportunities include:
Additionally, several Town departments offer department-specific programs that offer informal opportunities for engagement.
All Town-sponsored outreach programs are free and open to everyone. The various events such as Coffee with the Mayor, Community Round-table Meetings, and Administrator’s Mobile Office Hours are held at different locations around the community each month to be more easily accessible to all members of the population.
One month, the Town Administrator rode a city bus route for his Mobile Office Hours, giving him the chance to meet with citizens on their way to work and even homeless citizens that had never before been engaged.
Town Council meetings will be held at other venues around town in 2018; recreation practices are starting to be held directly in neighborhoods, and round-table meetings are held at local businesses, community centers, or on public transit. Following each event, staff responds to all identified issues, they recognize participants on social media, monitor public agendas for relevant items and maintains regular contact with citizens. Prior to the implementation of any new program or project, it is first reviewed for equity and inclusion of all citizens.
Participants learn from Town officials and from other attendees, and vice versa. Several community “wins” have resulted from these meetings including the preservation of weekend bus routes, construction of new bike lanes and an addition to one of the community centers.
The Town of Mount Pleasant’s various engagement strategies have been tremendously successful with thousands of participants. Communication has improved, relationships have been strengthened, and through the recently established Comprehensive Planning Forum, a common identity and shared community vision is emerging. Future expansion of these programs has been identified to make the regular Town Council meetings more engaging for all participants.
Mount Pleasant, SC– 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Town of Mount Pleasant’s Community & Government Affairs