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Volunteers needed for county future plan (03/20/2013)
By Sarah Squires
The Winona County comprehensive plan sets a path for the future. It contains the goals of the community and is the framework for local land use regulations, ordinances, and laws. It tells elected officials what the people want—at least it is supposed to.

The last time the Winona County comprehensive plan was revised, it was wholly rejected by township officials throughout the county, but adopted by the County Board nonetheless. Now, Winona County is preparing to revise its grand plan for the future, and this time, county leaders say it should be a grassroots process that results in a document citizens can embrace.

All they need is you.

County leaders are seeking volunteers for membership on a steering committee that will help gather public ideas and opinions for the new plan. Those who would like to be part of the steering committee, which will meet once or twice per month for up to two years, should submit their names and brief biographies to Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman. Information may be directed to him at jgilman@co.winona.mn.us, or by calling 507-457-6337. Applicant information may also be mailed to: Jason Gilman, Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director, 177 Main Street, Winona, MN, 55987.

Originally, the steering committee was not to be opened to general applications. Instead, after conferring with former board chair Mena Kaehler and former vice chair (now chair) Wayne Valentine, Gilman said he began a "referral" process in order to find steering committee members.

Gilman said he asked township officers, a few city leaders, as well as Farm Bureau and Land Stewardship Project officials, to refer potential steering committee members for consideration. After County Board member Steve Jacob raised concerns that the referral process might leave some potential committee candidates overlooked, Gilman said he opened the referral process up so that any county resident may volunteer. Ultimately, the County Board will decide who sits on the steering committee. Gilman said he hoped he could bring a diverse list of candidates to the board for consideration.

The steering committee will not be the only group guiding the comprehensive plan update. The township officers' association will also be consulted during the process, and the County Board will oversee the work and vote on the final plan. Additionally, an outside consultant will be hired, although Gilman said that person will not lead the process, but, rather, serve in more of a supporting role to keep the process on track.

Gilman said he is looking forward to a process that ensures the comprehensive plan will be one supported by citizens across the county, and avoids the pitfalls of the process used to craft the plan adopted in 2000 that was voted down by township boards. "I know there are planners who push certain ideals, and I think that's because of their training; they have an idea about how things might be done best," he explained. "But the role of the comprehensive plan is really to get a grassroots vision in place. That's the task—to get out there and give people the opportunity to tell us what they want for their children and grandchildren. That's the most important thing to recognize: the people who live here and invest here are the ones affected." 


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