AUBURN — A six-month strategic planning effort to help guide the work of city officials will begin next month, but only after the City Council gives a nod of approval to a series of committee appointments.

The council Monday voted unanimously to approve the planning effort, but the vote came weeks after its initial framework was questioned by councilors and members of the public.

The planning initiative, spearheaded by City Manager Peter Crichton, will convene three subcommittees on various topics throughout the winter, eventually compiling the findings for the City Council to prioritize this spring. 

The strategic plan is being characterized as a way to better organize goals included in 2010’s comprehensive plan, as well as a chance to update it. 

The initial setup, with eight subcommittees, received a lukewarm reception when it was first rolled out in August. Many questioned the subcommittee process in general, stating the council is relinquishing its power to create policy to nonelected committees. 

While the effort was approved Monday, Councilor Bob Hayes insisted on last-minute edits to the planning language to make certain the council will have the final say on all members of the committees.

Hayes said Monday that he had reservations, questioning why the council hadn’t seen how names are being compiled.

“These are committees, we should make them our committees,” he said.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Councilor David Young said.

Crichton said during the meeting, “I’m not going to move ahead with strategic planning without the support of the council.” 

The final council resolve, with an edit forwarded from Hayes, stipulates that the council will vote on each committee and its membership, the charge for each committee, and receive a report from each committee.

Crichton said Wednesday that the next step will be Oct. 1, when councilors will review a list of potential appointees presented by Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell. He said the appointees will be a combination of handpicked people and members of existing city committees. 

The original plan of eight subcommittees was pared down to three — growth, quality of life and investment. The first, growth, will convene for a month’s time, and tackle issues relating to Auburn’s downtown and riverfront opportunities. 

Crichton said it may include conversations with Lewiston about possible river events. An intern working with the city previously put together a presentation on successful river events, such as the popular WaterFire in Providence, Rhode Island. 

“I think there’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm for having the plan now that people understand what we’re doing, and how it can connect to the (comprehensive) plan,” he said. “The river is something that’s not in the (comprehensive) plan but it’s something that makes sense — developing events around the river that could help downtown businesses is something we should be looking at.” 

The next committee to meet will be “quality of life,” which Crichton described as a look at parks and recreation, natural resources such as Lake Auburn and health. Lastly, the investment committee will meet in late winter when there will be a review.

Crichton said the plan would be prioritized by the council based on “what investment would be required,” and what the return-on-investment could be. 

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