Some differences over the city’s proposed sustainability plan were settled during Monday’s council meeting, but others surfaced as two council members exchanged barbs over some of its contents.
The overall goal of being a sustainable city is “to promote an environment that encourages environmental, social and economic growth by promoting practices friendly to current and future residents of Gering.”
After the formal plan had been rejected by the council at its March 28 meeting by a 5-2 vote, Council Member Jill McFarland told the media she planned to continue working with city staff to implement portions of the plan that would work for Gering. Fellow Council Member Larry Gibbs asked whether she had the authority to do that.
But by Monday’s meeting, Gibbs said the agenda item was a non-issue and that he and McFarland agreed to continue working toward developing a plan that would work for Gering.
“We’re in agreement we need to come up with something that’s palatable to all,” McFarland said. “We plan to pick and choose parts from the plan because some of it won’t work for us.”
Council member Don Christensen told the council he had read all 86 pages of the sustainability study and referred to an item that recommended the merger of local police departments.
“What are we going to do?” Christensen asked. “Are we going to combine the police departments or aren’t we? The plan said we should do that. We have to make up our minds.”
Another item called for the inclusion of sustainability articles in the local Gering newspaper. “I don’t think this city council has any business endorsing any private business in a public document,” he said.
Christensen also took exception to the original newspaper article in which McFarland suggested that those who voted against the plan were wrong and ought to be replaced.
“I was not elected by the people of my ward to be a ‘yes’ person,” he said. “I think I voted correctly. But if you’d like to follow up on the idea we should quit, the county clerk can provide the paperwork for you and you can recall all five us if that’s what you want to do.”
McFarland told Christensen that any recall would be up to the citizens, not her. But he said he had a right to respond after she “made it public by going to that newspaper downtown.”
According to McFarland, Christensen had said during the March 28 meeting that he hadn’t read the sustainability plan.
“Maybe you’ve read it between then and now, but I’d like to know how you can make an intelligent vote on something you hadn’t read.”
Mayor Ed Mayo said McFarland will continue meeting with city departments to find out what parts of the plan would and wouldn’t work for Gering so a workable plan can be developed.
Mayo also wrote a “broad stroke” one-page plan the city could adopt if it chose. In the plan’s own words, it would be “subject to expand, evolve and otherwise change as required to remain viable.”
Council member Manuel Escamilla recommended Mayo’s plan be sent to the Administrative
Committee for further discussion. A motion to that effect passed by a 7-1 vote, with the lone ‘no’ vote coming from Council Member Julie Morrison.
In other action, the council heard from Rawnda Pierce, executive director of Twin Cities Development, who presented results from their strategic planning sessions. The survey covered economic and demographic trends in Scotts Bluff County.
“When you look at all the findings, Scotts Bluff County compares more as a metro area than a non-metro farming area,” Pierce said. “I thought it was interesting that our industry sectors line up more with Lincoln and Omaha. It was also disturbing that our per capita personal income and median family income was lower than metro areas.”
The biggest identified challenges to the area were taxes, a slow economy, wage levels and lack of population/slow population growth.
“One of the things that came out of the survey is that we should refocus efforts on locally owned business, capitalize on our community assets and identify industries that will take us to the next level,” Pierce said.
She added the survey findings were very broad, so Gering should form a smaller task force to identify five or six specific items the city should pursue, things that would be a good fit to the community.
Council members unanimously approved a motion to create a task force to look at the study and develop a plan for future economic development.