GT County Commissioners Set Strategic Priorities, Hear Community/Employee Survey Feedback
By Beth Milligan | May 25, 2023
Make Grand Traverse County the employer of choice. Plan for future growth and innovation. Focus on priorities. Convene to work together. Intentionally drive the mission. Build trust and transparency.
Those are the goals Grand Traverse County commissioners set out for themselves following an extended strategic planning session Wednesday. Public Sector Consultants, a firm that recently assisted commissioners in determining how to spend $18.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, has been hired to help the county create a strategic plan. Commissioners went through a two-hour visioning and SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis with Public Sector Consultants before breaking for lunch and then being joined by county department heads for another two-hour afternoon session focused on identifying strategic goals.
To help commissioners identify areas of potential strengths and weaknesses, Public Sector Consultants shared the results of a National Community Survey conducted of 489 Grand Traverse County residents. The survey – taken in 2022 to provide a comparison to a similar survey conducted of residents in 2020 – was mailed to 2,800 randomly selected households, generating a 17 percent response rate. Residents were asked about a range of categories related to their experience living in Grand Traverse County, from their impressions of local government to housing affordability to recreational opportunities to public safety.
At least 8 in 10 residents gave “positive ratings to the overall quality of life in Grand Traverse County, Grand Traverse as a place to live, their neighborhood as a place to live, and would recommend living in Grand Traverse,” according to the survey report. “A strong majority also gave positive marks to the overall image of the county (78 percent), Grand Traverse as a place to raise children (85 percent), and the county as a place to retire (73 percent). Nearly 9 in 10 also reported that they planned to remain in Grand Traverse for the next five years.” Most residents reported feeling safe in their neighborhoods and community, with an overwhelming majority of respondents also praising the quality of recreation and the natural environment in Grand Traverse County.
However, respondents also flagged areas of concern. “The cost of living, variety of housing options, and availability of affordable quality housing received approval from roughly 1 in 10 residents,” the report states. “A similar proportion of residents felt the economy would have a positive impact on family income in the coming 6 months.” Respondents also criticized the ease of mobility in Grand Traverse County, with only half approving of the ease of travel by car and just 3 in 10 approving of the ease of public parking and traffic signal timing – response rates that are all lower than national benchmarks.
Notably, residents reported significantly more negative feelings about the community’s inclusivity and about their faith in government than they did in 2020. Only 34 percent of residents rated Grand Traverse County excellent or good in attracting people from diverse backgrounds, a drop from 42 percent in 2020. Valuing/respecting residents from diverse backgrounds dropped from 53 to 40 percent over the last two years, as did taking care of vulnerable residents (52 to 39 percent). Confidence in Grand Traverse County government dropped from 45 to 35 percent, while respondents’ satisfaction in the overall direction the county is going dropped from 51 to 39 percent. Perceptions of the honesty of county government and of government officials acting in the best interest of the community also significantly declined from 2020 to 2022.
Commission Chair Rob Hentschel noted that residents sometimes lump all forms of governmental concerns – from zoning to roads to housing – into one category and blame those on the county, even though the county doesn’t have control over many of those issues. Other entities like townships, cities, and road commissions are making many of those decisions, he said. Scott Dzurka of Public Sector Consultants also pointed out that there could be an overall nationwide decline in feelings about government being reflected in local survey results.
Still, commissioners agreed that building more trust and transparency is important for Grand Traverse County, going so far as to make it one of their six identified priorities at the end of Wednesday’s strategic session. Collaboration – among commissioners, staff, other governmental bodies, and community partners – also emerged as a key action step. After Dzurka shared early results from a survey currently being undertaken of all county employees – which shows employees take pride in their jobs and feel close to their teams but don’t always feel their work or input is valued – commissioners also identified making Grand Traverse County “the employer of choice” as another priority.
Commissioners and staff also spoke at length about acting more “intentionally” to drive the mission of Grand Traverse County, keeping focused on identified priorities, and planning for future growth and innovation. That could include embracing forward-thinking technology and deploying a governance model of continuous adaptative planning. Commissioners Wednesday also shared feedback on the county’s current mission and vision statement – offering edits that will likely lead to more simplified, focused messaging in the future – and shared what they wanted Grand Traverse County to look like in the future. “I’d like to see a renewed confidence in our government bodies, that we are making decisions for our community that are making their lives better,” said Commissioner Penny Morris.
Wednesday’s session is the first of more strategic planning sessions to come. Dzurka said Public Sector Consultants will compile all of the input from commissioners and staff Wednesday to create a revised mission and vision statement, which will be reviewed by commissioners in the future. Identified priorities will also be fleshed out to help create the county’s final strategic plan, Dzurka said.Comment