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Covington council continues strategic planning process
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The City of Covington’s staff has completed many of the goals previously set by the city council, but council members said they still had trouble communicating with each other, particularly during controversial issues.

The council and City Manager Steve Horton began their second three-day strategic planning retreat of the year Friday at the Oaks Golf Course, under the guidance of Frank and Alysin Foster of The Centre for Strategic Management at a cost of $5,000.

The retreat has several goals, including to develop a collaborative working environment within the city council, to review the city’s progress on goals they set during March’s retreat, to review and possibly update the city’s charter and to develop a strategic focus for the city to allow the staff to develop a tangible, workable strategic plan.

Much of Friday’s all day session was spent reviewing progress made on the previous 2008-2010 strategic plan and addressing whether the council was acting toward each other in the manner they had agreed upon in March.

Horton took the council through the previous plan and the city’s progress to improve: utility service and delivery, human resource management strategies and economic development.

Utility Issues

Horton said the city had purchased base load electrical power from The City of Marietta and The Energy Authority, which reduced the power-cost adjustment, or PCA, on residents’ bills, because the city didn’t have to buy as much power on the expensive open market.

However, many residents have not noticed any savings because usage of electricity was so high during the colder winter, officials said. Following Georgia Power’s decision to pass a large rate increase on to its customers to pay for its investment in the expansion of the nuclear Plant Vogtle, the city’s rates may begin to look much more favorable by comparison.

At the same time, the city found out previously that’s it’s been overcharging commercial and industrial business for electricity and undercharging residents, and it may revisit a rate adjustment in the future.

The city recently moved to absorb the 2.95 percent transaction fee charged when residents pay a utility bill with a credit or debit card, which will save both the residents and the city money, because of the expense of processing checks.

Covington is also close to completing its full conversion to radio read utility meters, which allow employees to remotely read meters, greatly reducing personnel costs. The city also received a couple of energy efficiency grants for the city and residents.

Human Resources

The city has aggressively used early retirement plans to trim the city’s job rolls by around 50 positions since 2007. In addition, the city updated its personnel policies and implemented more opportunities for online training.

The city also consolidated its information technology with the Covington Police Department’s IT department in an effort to save money.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams expressed concern about the city’s bidding process, because she believed minority businesses were underrepresented in the city’s contracts. Horton said he takes discrimination very seriously, and suggested that in many cases businesses have not made themselves known to the city. Any contract under $20,000 does not need to bid out, but the city attempts to call as many applicable businesses that it knows as possible. Williams said she would try to spread the word in her community.

Economic Development

The county-wide economic development study was completed, but must now be implemented, Horton said. The civic center project appears dead, but the airport is continuing to expand. The city also joined the county in increasing the funding of the local chamber of commerce in an effort to attract a talented economic development official.

Council Communication Issues

Despite the city’s accomplishments, the council agreed it had some communication issues. In particular, officials felt they did not share enough information before council meetings, and regarding controversial issues, some members were still upset that other members chose to go through the media instead of communicating personally. In addition, the majority of the council felt respect was still lacking from their fellow members.

However, in some aspects the council felt there had been improvement, including their comfort level in tabling an issue if they felt they didn’t have enough information. The council agreed to continue to discuss how to build trust and to take the issue of racism head on during Monday morning’s session. The retreat will last from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and is open to the public.