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‘All hands’ meeting stresses transparency, collaboration, town’s strategic plan

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Featured: News, News

Town department heads convened in a two-hour virtual “all hands” meeting Wednesday to discuss their respective visions and how they will be integrated into the town’s strategic plan.

Select Board chair Muriel Kramer kicked off the discussion. She praised the forum for bringing a cross section of the community to discuss important issues as the Select Board prioritizes creating a strategic plan for Hopkinton.

“The headline for me is that Hopkinton continues to prosper and thrive,” said Town Manager Norman Khumalo. The reasons he gave are that the town now has $5 billion in assets, the top public school system in the state, and the reputation of being one of the safest small towns in the country.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, department heads began planning their annual goals, Khumalo said. They shared them over the course of the evening. The overarching message was the interconnectedness of the departments in providing excellent public service.

Recurrent themes included youth engagement, leadership

Consultant and author Jon Wortmann facilitated the meeting, which included 15 two-minute presentations with time for questions. He called the event “a strategic planning teaser.”

Leaders discussed their departmental strategic plans that will be incorporated into the townwide one. Some key goals mentioned were increasing activities and engagement opportunities for young people, being inclusive of older residents, diverse populations and people with disabilities, and increasing communication.

“This year’s focus is on listening, connecting and empowering,” explained Youth & Family Services Director Dawn Alcott. “We want to formalize the youth voice in all programming goals by fiscal year 2025, and we’re well on our way.”

Hopkinton Police Chief Joseph Bennett said the department wants to continue to build community interaction, which in turn will increase trust. Other department goals are to focus on the promotion and professional development of officers as well as on the recruitment of new ones.

“The Fire Department’s vision for the upcoming year is to establish a vibrant and inclusive Fire Department committed to the well-being and safety of our community and its employees regarding mental, physical and environmental [well-being],” said interim Fire Chief Gary Daugherty Jr.

In the comment portion, Gary Trendel, the Planning Board chair, asked how departments planned on dealing with the turnover in the last two years. Earlier in the evening, Kramer announced that Human Resources director Maria Casey will be leaving her position at the end of the week and commended her for her service.

“I think that we in Hopkinton have a very caring environment for employees,” Bennett said. “We take care of each other, and we’re there for each other when things happen.”

“The best way that we attract talent is that we have a good team,” explained Kerry Reed, the Department of Public Works director. “The people that we have are really dedicated to service.”

Said Wortmann: “Actually showing people the value of service is one of the most important things.”

Matthew Kizner, the Capital Improvement Committee chair, asked about what the town is doing “to give our kids something to do.” There had been previous issues with young people hanging out and being disruptive in downtown businesses earlier this year.

Alcott said she has three students working with her to help with programming and “shifting the community culture.” The Hop Youth group is growing as well.

Parks & Recreation Department Director Jon Lewitus said his department is focusing more on “nontraditional activities” now, including STEM, dance, cooking, business leadership and etiquette classes.

Health Department Director Shaun McAuliffe noted that the department has been recognized by the state for its leadership, particularly during the pandemic. The department is working on several initiatives including food safety, food insecurity and vaccinations.

Town engineer Dave Daltorio said a departmental goal for the Facilities & Engineering Department is to provide clean and comfortable spaces for employees and the public. Other goals are to protect town assets and promote energy efficiency initiatives.

Commission on Disability chair Holly Morand asked if Daltorio had a plan for emergency evacuations in town buildings. The issue was raised at the past two meetings about how people with disabilities would be able to evacuate in an emergency. Daltorio said he would look into the issue.

Board of Health vice chair Nasiba Mannan asked how the town could improve its messaging strategy to facilitate transparent communication.

“One of the biggest challenges these days is finding people where they are,” noted Wortmann. “This is something that we’ll work on as part of our strategic plan.”

Kizner added that educating the public about the financial impacts of town projects is key as well.

Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus represented the Land Use Department. She shared that part of improving communication is having permit applications and related documents online and providing exceptional service in an equitable manner.

Town Clerk Connor Degan added that improving technology and encouraging civic engagement were important goals.

Town strategic plan outlined

Khumalo noted that unlike most communities, Hopkinton generates its plans through volunteer efforts rather than with consultants. He added that with every plan approved, there is an instrument for monitoring its implementation.

“We need to know how to prioritize and manage our growth,” Kramer said regarding the strategic plan.

The timeline and wording of the strategic plan are important, Wortmann said. Community involvement and bonding are critical in the process, which can be lengthy.

Kramer thanked everyone at the conclusion for their “rigorous input.” She encouraged outreach about the strategic plan “to our community as we see it today.”