A proposal by City Manager Mark Prestwich for wide-ranging citizen engagement in planning St. Helena’s future was met with enthusiasm at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

At Prestwich’s suggestion, councilmembers unanimously supported establishing a citizens committee to address the city’s infrastructure and public buildings problems. The group would be aided and informed by a financial advisor.

In conjunction with the city’s ongoing needs assessment study, the citizens group will present the council with options for possible solutions to problems such as water and wastewater system improvements and maintenance, replacing outdated facilities, and other issues.

The committee is an outgrowth of the city’s ongoing assessment of its facilities and needs. The only debate was how many members, seven or nine, should make up the body, how soon to begin member selection, and what time of day to schedule meetings.

“The public engagement process is intended to provide broad opportunities for public participation,” Prestwich wrote in his report to the council. As part of that process, members of the public will tour city-owned facilities, and participate in focus groups and public workshops, Prestwich wrote.

The city will seek proposals for financial advisory services for the committee.

The plan is for committee members to be selected next month, with an eye toward “representing a broad spectrum of the community.” The members will then be briefed on city fees, use rules and finances. Prestwich’s timeline calls for the committee to present its suggestions to the city council by next April.

Last month council approved a request for proposal (RFP) for a needs assessment consultant to document and analyze the city’s existing built facilities, and assist with prioritizing capital improvements, maintenance needs, and funding requirements. Submittals for that RFP are due Oct. 2. Staff anticipates a preliminary report by the end of the year, with a final document due Jan. 29, 2018.

The committee proposal got an almost giddy reception from members of the public who were on hand.

“Rah, rah!” said Bobbi Monnette during public comment. “I think it’s wonderful. This is a real plan to get it done. I really appreciate it. It’s one of the first times I’ve seen such a complete process described.”

“I really like the plan. It engages a lot of people,” Grace Kistner said.

“I’m hugely in favor of what you’re proposing here. More public engagement is appropriate here,” said Tim Nieman.

Councilmember Mary Koberstein was eager to get started, suggesting getting the word out to the public immediately and start taking applications, given the aggressive timeline for the committee.

Prestwich proposed seating the committee and hiring a financial advisor for the group by next month.

“We could start recruitment as soon as Monday,” said City Clerk Cindy Tzafopoulos.

After some discussion it was agreed staff would establish a plan for recruitment and bring the matter back to council at the Sept. 26 meeting.