January 9, 2003
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Council moves forward on visioning process

At a special Village Council meeting Jan. 4, Council member Joan Horn shared a personal experience about empowerment and inclusiveness with her fellow Council members.

It was toward the end of the Whitehall Farm fundraising campaign in 1999, she began. A woman and her two small granddaughters had approached a donation table in front of Deaton’s Hardware and the children each dropped $1 in the box. At the same moment, she said, a man at the large goal-setting thermometer downtown was painting in the last increment to show the fundraising goal had been met.

“The looks on their faces when they saw the thermometer reach the top,” Horn said, “Showed that they thought it was their $2 that had made the difference.” “That’s empowerment, that’s what it feels like to make a difference,” she said.

Empowerment, community responsibility, tolerance, unity of purpose — these were just a few of the values Council members identified among the most important attributes of an ideal Yellow Springs, as they began the lengthy process of visioning a future for the town.

Chester Bowling, a professor and extension specialist from Ohio State University who is helping organize the visioning process, endorses the idea of capitalizing for the future on what worked well in the past. The process is known as appreciative inquiry.

“This process is designed to help create change through innovation in a community,” he said.

The first step is to define the central focus of the process and to create a set of questions that will illuminate what makes Yellow Springs a positive place to live. The questions will be used to interview as many community members as possible about their positive community experiences to learn what it was about those experiences that worked. Then, expanding beyond experience, residents will be encouraged to think creatively about new ways to work together toward a common purpose.

With the help of a steering committee, which will soon be defined, the conceptual brainstorming could take up to six months to complete, according to Bowling. By early summer the community could be into the next two phases of the appreciative inquiry, he said.

Council had originally intended to be further into the process by now.

“The Yellow Springs community doesn’t like to whip through things,” Bowling said. “People here like to see things done well, and that takes a lot more effort.”

Last September and October Bowling interviewed each Council member individually about what each of them loved about Yellow Springs and what each longed for in the community. On Saturday they discussed the stories and ideas that came out of their interviews in order to craft a set of questions for the larger community inquiry.

Council president Tony Arnett said he noticed the community felt strongly about children as the future, saying that in 30 years a school levy has never failed here.

“Each levy committee is a community-based group,” he said. “Every individual does their job, and it works every time,” he said. “It comes back to the community coming together and working and volunteering for the shared value of education.”

Council member Hazel Latson said that she remembered a woman from Greene Metropolitan Housing who came to a Council meeting to tell them about her high utility bill.

“We looked at it, and it impacted our decision” to provide level billing for the Village’s electric utility services,” she said. “She wasn’t a mover and a shaker in the community, but her voice was heard,” Latson said.

By sharing positive stories, Council learned that things such as broad-based participation, enfranchisement, diversity and a sense of altruism all made decision- making better.

“The thing to remember about community is that it’s not a machine and that whatever worked to develop unity of purpose last time might not work every time,” Bowling said. “But identifying unity of purpose as a goal will serve as a way to come up with different means of achieving this goal.”

The process will continue when Council holds another special meeting Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m., to formulate a set of questions for the public inquiry.

Bowling, who is using appreciative inquiry with neighborhoods in Cleveland and Cincinnati, seemed encouraged about the progress so far.

“The cardinal rule of this process is to try to limit the expectations and go into it with a sense of wonder,” he said. “It’s been amazing getting to know the community of Yellow Springs, the things you all do I think are extraordinary.”

—Lauren Heaton

Council budget sessions

Village Council will hold budget workshops on Wednesday, Jan. 22, Wednesday, Jan. 29, and Thursday, Jan. 30, 7–9 p.m., in the Bryan Center, meeting rooms A and B.

During the sessions, Council and Village staff members will review the 2003 Village budget. The meetings are open to the public.