Column: The city is a corporation and citizens are the shareholders

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2003

We have a &uot;city manager&uot; form of government in Albert Lea. The manager is responsible for finances, taxes, elections, buildings, police, fire, inspections, engineering, streets, sewers, airport, parks, trees, library, lakes, housing, industrial development …

I guess he is in charge of everything that happens in Albert Lea except what takes place in the privacy of your own bedroom. All we need to do is to kick back and let him take care of us. He will provide us with jobs, entertainment, safety, transportation and everything else we need. We really don’t have to worry about anything.

Actually, if you believe this, you deserve whatever is delivered to you. A community such as Albert Lea is a corporate entity. We have formed this type of organization so that we can raise money to run the town and can make common decisions which will benefit all residents of the city. Because individual citizens do not have the expertise necessary to run an organization as complex as a city, we have hired managers to run the day-to-day administration of city business. These professional managers are under the control of our board of directors, which we call the city council. Ultimately, we are the shareholders who own the town. Without this form of organization, we would be an unincorporated collection of homes and businesses that would not have the power to make collective decisions. It would be every household and business for itself. A city the size of Albert Lea would be in chaos.

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My point here is that the city of Albert Lea is the collective property of its citizens. Unless we are willing to become actively involved in charting the overall direction of the city, we really cannot complain if we do not like the direction in which the city is heading. If it appears that our city lacks direction, we are responsible for this also. A well-run city needs to have a sense of purpose and direction. This is accomplished through citizen involvement in the planning process. Planning basically falls into two categories which are often described as &uot;comprehensive planning&uot; and &uot;strategic planning.&uot;

Our city charter mandates that we plan for the physical development of the city. This is called the comprehensive plan. Under this process we have set up a system of planning and zoning. We have determined how large the city should be, what the geographic shape the city should be, where roads will be built, where sewers will be laid, and how the sewage will be treated. Anyone who has not seen the most recent map of Albert Lea, which shows the physical infrastructure and geography of the city, should stop in at the city planning office in city hall. This map shows a snapshot of where we have situated industry and residential areas. It also shows how the city has grown outside the city limits as well as what land within the city remains to be developed. A careful study of this map will reveal opportunities as well as problems that need to be addressed if we are to accommodate orderly growth over the next few years.

The strategic planning process is not mandated or even foreseen in the city charter. Strategic planning is an area where our city really falls short and we must begin to concentrate on this type of planning. Strategic plans are best developed when the entire community participates in the process. If properly handled, everyone will participate at some level and we will all feel that the city’s plans have attempted to address everyone’s issues. What might some of those important issues be?

Some current topics come to mind. Do we need a new library; if so, when; if so, where? Are clean lakes important to us and, if so, are we willing to allocate sufficient funds to clean them up? If we are, who will pay for this and how will the money be collected? Are we satisfied with the level and quality of job growth in Albert Lea? If not, what type of jobs do we want, where, at what cost, and what are we willing to do to attract them from the outside or develop them internally? Is a vibrant and economically viable downtown important to us? If so, what do we need to do to attract more activity to our downtown? How well are we handling the cultural diversity that has come to Albert Lea in the past few years? If improvement is needed, what needs to be done to make certain everyone in our community feels a sense of belonging and participates in our development?

If we really love our community, and most of us do, what can we do to make Albert Lea a safer, more enjoyable, and economically rewarding place to raise our families?

When we develop a plan and direction for the town and everyone feels that we are moving in the same direction, this should help us to feel better about Albert Lea.

An essential part of the planning process is to make certain that the plan is implemented. This may require the creation of some new organizations and modification of others. First of all, do not fail to participate in the planning process. Every point of view is important. This includes yours!

Albert Lea resident Tony Trow’s column appears Mondays in the Tribune.