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Article updated: 11/14/2013 8:55 AM

District 200 OKs contract with firm for public workshops

By Justin Kmitch

After three months of discussions, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials stood unanimous in their desire to tap into their constituents through an in-depth community engagement process.

They could not, however, agree on exactly how to do it.

Despite some last-minute pleas for a unanimous decision, board members voted 5 to 2 to approve a $49,500 contract with St. Louis-based public relations firm Unicom Arc to facilitate a series of six to eight public workshops to help set the district's direction for the next five to seven years.

Board members first pulled the contract off the table last month when it became apparent the vote wouldn't be unanimous. No one's minds were changed between then and Wednesday night.

"It's going to, on several levels, show the community we care about their opinions. We don't know what the community is feeling unless they're asked and educated," said board member Joann Coghill. "It's hard to reach out to all the different levels of the community. That can only be done by hiring someone. It makes sense to hire professionals and have it done and have it done well."

Board members Jim Mathieson and Jim Gambaiani, however, cast the two opposing votes, but for different reasons.

Mathieson said he wishes he would have heard from several vendors before voting while Gambaini believes the board could and should shoulder the load of the work.

"I'm strongly supportive of community engagement. I think in the big picture, the reason I've asked all the questions is I'm not getting over the hurdle of getting a clear identification of what we're going to get," Mathieson said. "I wish I would have been able to see more potential vendors both for approach as well as cost."

Gambaiani also pleaded his case.

"I support, 100 percent, the district's goal to stay connected to the community, determine its priorities and foster partnerships. But where I differ is the process," he said. "That's the beauty of us being around this table. We can share our thoughts and opinions."

With the contract approved, the next step is for the district's Community Engagement Committee to select a 12 to 15 member facilitating team to begin the initiative. They hope to have the team of community and district members assembled in the coming weeks.

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