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Grand Haven Michigan Turns Goal Setting into an Art Form with 'Vivid and Lively Goals'

By Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton

Location: Western Michigan
Population: 11,168

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The city of Grand Haven was the 2010 winner of the Community Excellence Award. The city will keep the cup for a year then pass it on to the 2011 winner at the League's Annual Convention in Grand Rapids.

We all do it. We start off our year by making resolutions, setting goals, and then through the course of the year, many of us forget them.

It’s no different for municipalities. In council chambers across the state, elected officials are drafting goals that they hope will direct their decision making, but too often, like our own personal resolutions, those goals are forgotten.

But not in Grand Haven, where the council has left behind the simple list, trading it in for goals that are presented in a visually appealing and memorable way. The project won the League’s 2010 Community Excellence Award.

“So often goals get written in report form and everybody forgets they exist,” said Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis. “We decided to put our goals into a graphic format and have them hanging in all our departments.”

IT’S A MOVE THAT HAS ELEVATED THE ART OF GOAL SETTING.

“It just makes sense,” McGinnis said. “I mean the city council gets its direction from its constituents and spends time and effort working to put its goals together to reflect that, why not spend a little extra time and effort to make them more memorable.”

Grand Haven started making its goals more visually appealing in 2006, when Mary Snedeker, an administrative assistant in the clerk’s office, got involved.

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Grand Haven’s visual rendering of 2010 Council Goals. “Graphics make the goals more appealing and eye-catching.” says Mayor Roger Bergman. “It’s certainly nicer than having a list. It’s a pleasing reminder of what we are working towards as a council and as a city.”

“When I came here in 2003, I started using different publisher programs on the goals, but it was when Mary got involved it really took off,” said McGinnis. “We’ve been throwing ideas at her ever since.”

A solitary theme is selected and the graphic is built around that. For example, the graphic for 2011 was a windmill, emphasizing one of Grand Haven’s goals of focusing on its natural assets.

Snedeker’s first goal-makeover remains one of her favorites. Goals were placed on a bull’s eye with the most important goals at the center. Among her most challenging was a beach theme, a big part of Grand Haven’s image, where goals were placed on buckets at lakeside.

Other themes have included the goals portrayed as the keys to Grand Haven’s success, and yet another year featured a baseball diamond, with a different goal at each base.

It’s been a challenge, but one that Snedeker enjoys.

“I’ve always had an interest in graphic design and took some classes,” Snedeker said. “I’ve enjoyed the challenge of putting words with a graphic to represent the city. It’s also neat to see the goals hanging in people’s offices.”

McGinnis said, “Putting the goals on display is a key part of the project.”

“If you’re having a meeting with someone, it is helpful to have those goals on display,” McGinnis said. “You can point to them and say, ‘This fits in with our goals.’”

The graphic goals are also distributed to citizens with the city calendar each year.

As an elected official, Mayor Roger Bergman said it is helpful to have the council goals always in the forefront.

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Grand Haven reinforces its council goals by posting them in each department. The continued focus on goals cuts down on contentiousness and helps the city to live within its budget.

“It is a continual reminder of the goals that we set for ourselves,” Bergman said. “There are times when a good idea might come up, but if it doesn’t fit within our goals it hasn’t been budgeted for—so we know we have to consider that next year. It’s a helpful tool for living within our budget.”

Governing can often come with an element of rancor, but McGinnis said the continual focus on goals has helped cut down the contentiousness.

“It helps keep the staff and the council on the same page,” McGinnis said.

Contentiousness has largely gone away because the staff can say, ‘I’m following your direction, and this is consistent with the goals you set.’ Having the goals laid out clearly and constantly reiterated is a great consensus builder.“

Grand Haven has no plans to go back to the old way of list-making.

“I think the graphics make the goals more appealing and eye-catching,” Bergman said. “It’s certainly nicer than having a list. It’s a pleasing reminder of what we are working towards as a council and as a city.”

Bergman was pleased that the League honored Grand Haven with its Community Excellence Award because the project is simple to implement, but with big payoffs. “I’ve gotten emails from people in other communities that have said they want to do this in their city,” Bergman said. “You see a lot of innovative ideas coming out of this competition, but many of them can’t work in every community, but this idea can work everywhere. This is something everyone can do.”

The hardest part of the project is finding a person with the skills to help implement it.
“Every city will have a creative person on staff that can help come up with a graphic,” Bergman said. “We were very lucky to have found Mary and she’s doing a great job.”

The Grand Haven City Council has already drafted their goals for the 2011 fiscal year and is eagerly waiting to see what Snedeker will do with them.

Highlight

Grand Haven was the overall winner in the 2010 Community Excellence Award “Race for the Cup.” The CEAs are the League’s most prestigious community awards. They are decided upon by peers both at the regional level and at the Convention, where one of seven regional finalists is selected as the Cup winner.

To find out more about the CEAs, go to mml.org/awards/cea.html.

Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton is a freelance writer. You may contact her at 810-444-3827.

 

 

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