Research Magazine 2006

School helps city map its future

In fall 2007 Kennedale City Manager Bob Hart was acutely aware that his growing city was at a crossroads. Decisions made in the next couple of years would shape Kennedale’s future. Some serious planning was in order.

Hart, a seasoned public official, says cities often ask an outside facilitator to help craft a municipal strategic plan. So he, Mayor Bryan Lankhurst and City Council member Brian Johnson contacted the School of Urban and Pubic Affairs. The blueprint, the Kennedale leaders decreed, needed significant citizen engagement.

Kennedale street sign

“The thing I really like about working with UT Arlington is how thoughtful they are about how to proceed.”

Citizen participation might have appeared unattainable in a city that typically has less than a 10 percent turnout in local elections and sparse attendance at community events. But when Professor James Kunde’s class in communications surveyed 2,500 citizens in their water bills, the results were surprising—more than 200 responses.

“That’s an amazing response rate for a survey,” Kunde said.

He said it suggests that Kennedale residents are indeed interested in what’s going on and eager to have their opinions heard. It indicated that the water bill is an effective mechanism for distributing information in the predominantly commuter community. Kunde’s class also conducted three focus groups to test support for potential new initiatives.

While the communications group was doing its work, Professor Sherman Wyman’s economic development class conducted one-on-one interviews with local business leaders focusing on four areas: demographics, issues with city services, expectations, and thoughts on forming an industry council.

The graduate students compiled a report and presented it to the Kennedale City Council. Dr. Wyman says the city council created the industry council on the spot and then conducted the first meeting.

The strategic plan is moving along steadily, and Hart couldn’t be more pleased with the results. One of the goals was to establish a civic organization, and that was accomplished by chartering a Rotary club. The plan also made development of the town center a priority, based on a study SUPA did in the early 1990s.

“The thing I really like about working with UT Arlington is how thoughtful they are about how to proceed,” Hart says. “The teams suggest the best approach to take and identify not only the issues but the stumbling blocks we may encounter in conducting our strategic plan.”

- Sue Stevens

Editor’s note: Professor James Kunde died in February after a long battle with cancer. A member of the SUPA faculty since 1991, he was 71.