Annual advance meeting helps county keep vision in focus

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 29, 2020 | 1:30 p.m.

9th annual advance brings supervisors, key staff together for day-long planning session

DINWIDDIE – One of the most important things for a local government to be able to have a grasp of is an understanding of looking beyond the short term as they plan for the future of their community. In Dinwiddie, while that mindset is a constant for county leaders, it takes a tangible form every year during the board of supervisors’ advance meeting as senior department heads and elected officials unite for a day of strategic planning and reflection on the past.

Last week, the Ragsdale Community Center in the Town of McKenney was the venue for this year’s advance, with supervisors joining members of the county’s senior staff, ranging from public safety, economic development and planning, to information technology, for a day-long session that focused on setting goals for 2020 and years beyond.

Coming on the heels of last November’s general election, which saw all five incumbents re-elected to the board of supervisors, this year’s advance carried a uniqueness to it that past gathering as the currently seated board prepares for its third term together as a unit.

With that comes reflection on many of the goals that had been set by supervisors nearly a decade ago when they met for their first advance meetings, including the beginning of broadband expansion, the development and completion of new public safety and government offices, and a continued focus on managed economic growth that balances the attraction of new businesses with a focus on maintaining Dinwiddie’s rural and agricultural character.

Dinwiddie Administrator Kevin Massengill oversees last week’s board of supervisors advance meeting, where county elected leaders and senior staff come together for a day of engaging dialogue centered on strategic planning for the new year and beyond. (Michael Campbell)

As they sat down for their ninth board advance, supervisors were tasked with taking a look at many aspects of Dinwiddie County and where they see their own districts and the county itself going through the remainder of 2020 and the new decade.

That work began early Friday morning at the Ragsdale Center as county leaders and the Dinwiddie’s senior leadership reviewing and scrutinizing the county’s vision and mission statements, along with their core values.

During focused discussions, supervisors said they were pleased with Dinwiddie’s vision statement, which reads, “We cherish our heritage, embrace opportunity, and offer an extraordinary community in which to spend a lifetime,” with supervisors like Chairman Daniel Lee personally seeing his own life experience shine through in the statement.

“I like the vision statement,” he remarked. “In my situation with my family and being in Dinwiddie as long as they have been, I feel the ‘lifetime’ part, for us, from 1804 to 2020, means a lot to me. I have three of my four grandchildren living in Dinwiddie so, the ability to have them stay close to me is very important, too.”

For Vice-Chair Brenda Ebron-Bonner, the “heritage” of Dinwiddie alluded to in the vision statement highlights the opportunities for new transplants and those with planted roots in the county to learn about Dinwiddie’s rich history that spans centuries and Dinwiddie’s unique geography lets people establish lives in the county and have access to the natural beauty of the Commonwealth out west and along the coast.

“I think a lot of people like living in our area because they have access to the mountains, beaches, and even traveling to Washington, D.C., it is like a midpoint for them,” she remarked. “In my district, a lot of people are moving in. I am seeing the house being built and they seem pretty happy.”

While members of the board, senior staff, and the county were seemingly in agreement about the vision statement, some questioned if the county’s mission statement, which currently says the county will “Ethically and efficiently serve [their] citizens and enhance the overall community,” truly conveys the goals and desires of the county.

According to county leaders, the county’s mission, vision statements, and core values were drafted roughly a decade ago, during a time when the county was working to regain public trust in their local government. In 2020, supervisors and department heads alike said it may be time to move forward with updating that language as Dinwiddie continues to thrive in the region and stand out as one of Southside Virginia’s leaders in economic development and governance.

For Bonner, as she recounted her own experiences in the community when she first joined the board in the late 2000s, she said, as the county continues to remain transparent and seeking community input and participation, people are feeling more engaged with their community as a result.

“When I would talk to the citizens, I would hear, ‘It’s always one way, it’s negative,’” she said. “I would hear that from elderly people and younger people from listening to the older people. Then, from people of color, they were extremely negative and would say, ‘I just go and pay my taxes and that’s it.’”

“Now,” Bonner continued, “I see there is a difference and things are shifting and now they feel they are part of the community. They come to meetings sometimes and they are involved in other things as well,” noting the county’s Hometown Heroes event, where Dinwiddie’s African-American community leaders are recognized for their service to the county and beyond every February, the county’s faith-based advisory board and other initiatives have been well received.

From over an hour of workshopping and collaboration, a revised mission was created, which read, “[The] Mission of Dinwiddie County is to build our community through a commitment to excellence in public service,” aiming to also have the county’s workforce represented in their mission.

The morning session saw supervisors and county staff take a deep dive into the county’s vision, mission statement, and core values, with resulting in alterations to each to better reflect the county’s current goals and commitment to its workforce. (Michael Campbell)

In addition, three more elements were added to the county’s current core values, with “respect,” “service,” and “stewardship” proposed to be paired with the current values “integrity, teamwork, and value-added customer service.”

During a break in the day-long session, County Administrator Kevin Masssengill, who serves as facilitator for the annual advance, explained why it was important for the board and senior staffers to be able to come together and review these elements collaboratively last week,

“In order to be able to do the actual work, the overarching thought is what are we here to do, what is the specific mission that we are doing when we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘This is what I get an opportunity to do today,’” he said. “What are those values we embody as a community and as public employees who are here to serve our community? This is critical to the overall culture of the community to ensure we get this right.”

The second-half of the day saw members engage in discussions about where to go from here, both in 2020 and into the next several years, considering key data and other metrics about Dinwiddie County. According to Massengill, thoughtful planning sessions like this are key to charting the course of the county in the coming years.

“We are really getting the board to think about some things, look at some trends and historical data of where we are headed but also, take some of that out and ask where do we want to be as a community,” the administrator explained. “If we stop and look 5, 10, 15 years from now, and if we are going to say we are an extraordinary community, what does that look like? Sometimes we can get caught up in the individual focus points based on specific needs of the citizens but at some point, the board has to take that macro approach and see where we are headed as a unit, how are we impacting people, are we doing what we should be doing?”

“The board of supervisors sets that direction, that is what they are elected to do. I know each one of them takes this extremely seriously and, at the end of the day we will have better direction as to where we need to go,” he closed.

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