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South Williamsport, PA
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A Lesson in Leadership

A very basic rule in business is that managers manage and leaders lead. Both are important. Every company, large or small, lives or dies on how well those in management are able to get the most out of whatever resource they manage. However, this is all based on maintaining a status quo. What happens, though,

A very basic rule in business is that managers manage and leaders lead. Both are important. Every company, large or small, lives or dies on how well those in management are able to get the most out of whatever resource they manage. However, this is all based on maintaining a status quo. What happens, though, when the circumstances change? When technology, or government requirements, or preferences of a particular market change — how is this going to be ‘managed?’

This is when leadership is required. By definition, a leader must move the people they represent in a new and different direction. This is never easy because management navigates the known, whereas leadership must travel in the unknown. Like the comment about a dog walking on its hind legs, we should not evaluate how well it is done, we should marvel that is done at all.

Kurt Hausammann Jr., Director of the Lycoming County Planning and Community Development Department, and Deputy Director Kim Wheeler, are leaders of the first order. They were given a task two and a half years ago to develop an update to the comprehensive plan for the county. That might not sound so difficult, but in truth, it was probably one of the more challenging tasks ever undertaken by a county department.

The previous plan that needed updating was one that relied heavily on outside consultants. Besides being very costly (some $900,000), it was also somewhat boilerplate in nature. It dealt with issues from a somewhat top-down view, which made implementation more difficult. The county commissioners felt that it would be better that the update be done in-house. After all, the Comprehensive Plan is the blueprint for the government’s actions. When applying for state and federal grants and aid, the first thing that is looked at is whether the request is in the Comprehensive Plan. It identifies major issues and then what particular programs and projects that can address these issues, thus showing how to move forward on these areas in the future. Does it not make sense to get input from those closest to these issues and areas of concern?

The idea was sound, but it would require a herculean task on behalf of the Lycoming County Planning and Community Development Department. Beginning in September 2015, the work was laid out that would result in a grind that would take nearly three years. Every member of the department was involved, and not a single new person was hired to assist in this work. In fact, due to a cost-cutting initiative by the county commissioners, the department actually cut three and a half positions over this time period.

The four members of the planning section worked on the public meetings for input as well as the writing of the report, the six GIS members did the analysis, the mapping, and public outreach, the four transportation section members worked on data analysis and statistics related to transportation areas, the five development services staff members worked on land use analysis and changes necessary for new mappings, and two individuals of the administrative support staff were tasked with all the word processing work. All this work, on top of their regular workload, meant the sacrifice of many an evening, weekends, and missed lunches.

Months of meetings, discussions, and public hearings were held throughout the county, not a stone was left unturned to listen and learn. Going the second mile, they not only were working on updating the county’s comprehensive plan, but also the did the same with the six multi-municipal comprehensive planning areas. It was not just the data collection, analysis, and research that was done, but it all had to be integrated together into a coherent whole.

What they produced is an extraordinary document. During the final presentation at the County Commissioners Meeting at their June 28th meeting, Commissioner Mirabito noted that it read like it was written by one author, but Deputy Director Wheeler insured them that nearly everyone in the department had a hand in the writing.

Director Hausammann emphasized that best of all, this is a practical, implementable plan for moving ahead for Lycoming County. In that sense, it is truly a leadership plan. Director Hausammann and Deputy Director Wheeler forged the twenty-one members of their department into a high engine machine that accomplished the impossible. And so it is appropriate that the final project was named, Lycoming 2030: Plan the Possible. The Lycoming County Planning and Community Development Department proved that the impossible is possible.

The 2018 Lycoming County Comprehensive Plan Update can be accessed by going to the county’s website, lyco.org, under ‘departments’ go to “Planning and Economic Development.’

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