City discusses placement of 'university' in vision statement

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Jun. 26—Should Manhattan be called a university town or a town with a university?

Manhattan city commissioners on Friday discussed where "university" should go in the city's vision statement. Here's the current statement: "A thriving, high-quality university community that offers a variety of opportunities to support the well-being of its people while capitalizing on its small-town feel."

Commissioners discussed possible definitions and descriptions of the city's vision with consulting firm Planning NEXT, which is helping the Manhattan city government shape priorities. The commission reviewed the CrossroadsMHK strategic plan during a Friday retreat at the new Anthony Recreation Center.

Mayor Wynn Butler said Manhattan resident (and prolific Mercury letter-writer) Helen Roser has sent a few letters on the subject, stating she does not want the city to be called a "university town." Butler said he heard similar comments from residents who play pickleball.

"They don't want to be labeled a university town," he said. "We are a small town with a university."

The mayor said it's not that the public doesn't want "university" written in the vision, people just do not want university going ahead of everything else.

"I agree with that," Butler said.

Commissioner Linda Morse said she wants the university and Fort Riley to be equal.

"When we describe our community, we need to say both of them," Morse said.

Morse added she wanted Manhattan to be referred to as a city.

"We're a city of the first class," she said. "That's good."

Commissioner Aaron Estabrook said he heard the same feedback as Butler. Estabrook said he agreed with the mayor.

"There's at least a standard of balance, of building Fort Riley, K-State and then the community as a whole, or the city," Estabrook said. "... So when one of those is out of balance, it affects all three of us."

Sarah Bongiorno, senior project manager for Planning NEXT, said they heard similar public comments as commissioners described, so Planning NEXT changed the statement.

This is the revised draft vision statement: "Manhattan is a place of progress with the full enthusiasm and engagement of a growing community of resilient and proud people and partners. As the hub of the Flint Hills Region, residents have opportunities to sustain their well-being while leveraging the friendly and welcoming spirit to attract visitors, talent and investment."

This statement is not finalized yet.

Commissioner Usha Reddi said she didn't know exactly how to arrange the three, Fort Riley, K-State and the city, in the vision, but she did say putting university at the end makes it seem like small town is more of the focal point.

"I think there is something to be said of being a university town because that is so often used with everybody," she said. "We are a small town with a university. I suppose that's something similar, but we can't pretend we are not here because of the university and Fort Riley at the same time, or otherwise we would be Junction City. And 50% percent, 40 to 50%, of our population is the university."

In addition to the vision, the strategic plan has seven qualities that the public wants Manhattan to strive for.

The commission reviewed each goal. They are as follows:

1. "A well-run city organization where employees are appropriate resourced, competitively compensated and staffed to realize the vision for the city."

2. "A strong and local diverse economy where people have access to diverse employment opportunities with competitive pay and the community attracts and retains talent."

3. "A nurtured community where people are engaged and connected to services, resources and others that support their well-being."

4. "A green community where stewarding natural resources and taking care of the environment is considered in key decisions."

5. "An enhanced network of infrastructure where it is continually planned, implemented and maintained to support living, working and investing."

6. "A strong sense of place where the neighborhoods are safe, walkable and connected and the emotional attachment to the community is enhanced by new development and redevelopment."

7. "A transparent and fiscally healthy budget where the operations of the city, including budgeting and decision making, are transparent, acceptable and accessible to the community."

On Goal No. 3, Planning NEXT received community feedback suggesting the removal of the word "nurtured," Bongiorno said. Commissioner Mark Hatesohl agreed with the public.

"I don't want people thinking that the government's their mommy or somebody's going to hold their hand," Hatesohl said. "... But I like the idea of supporting people."

Staff members will work on the draft plan for most of July following Friday's retreat and review it with commissioners later, officials said. Planning NEXT anticipates presenting the final plan to commissioners Sept. 7.

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