Strat Plan Part 2: The Shuffle Game

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DilbertIn the second part of my critique of Collingwood’s woo-hoo strategic plan, I will look at the shuffle game. This is where consultants give contestants – I mean participants – a limited series of options and ask them to shuffle these around in order of their perceived priority. Then the results are collated and the one whose list looks most like the final version wins.

There are five separate lists given to contestants. Think of them as strategic plan bingo cards:

  1. Accountable Local Government
  2. Public Access to a Revitalized Waterfront
  3. Economic Vitality
  4. Healthy Lifestyle
  5. Culture and the Arts

Participants get to choose the pre-ordained options as if they were some royal or divine authority they can impose on the town and its residents, without regard to law, custom, policies, past practice, or, in some cases, reality. Each of the five categories is preceded by one or more goals.

Let’s start by looking at the first category: Accountable Local Government. It’s stated goals are:

  • Efficient use of Town assets
  • Effectively manage Town debt
  • Engage in frequent, proactive communication with the public in order to build strong, transparent relationships with public and private groups
  • Long-term commitment to implement the CBSP over a 10-15 year horizon

None of these actually relate to accountability. There is nothing about integrity, ethics, or holding politicians to task for not keeping campaign promises. And communication does not “build strong, transparent relationships” as this bit of disinformation would have anyone think. Communication of the sort proposed is merely one-way.

First some prelude to my analysis: councils don’t manage anything: they direct staff to do so. Council’s don’t get hands-on: staff do that. And citizen groups don’t do either, nor do they direct council to direct staff. They, at best, advise. But their advice needs to be based on reality, not on some woo-hoo concept derived from wishful thinking or (in this case), an old ideology we’ve encountered before (see below).

So lets’ look at each “action item” proposed:

ACTION ITEM: Develop an improved Asset Management Plan that takes into account maintenance costs and a funding model for the replacement of assets that have reached the end of their lifecycle. Assets include road, water and wastewater infrastructure in addition to all buildings, recreation facilities, vehicles and equipment owned and maintained by the Town.

This is the first flog-a-dead horse item. Last council directed staff to develop exactly such an asset management plan. Cross this one off the list: we did it already. But one wonders why no one told the participants.

In fact, going through the list below, you’ll see that several of these ‘action items’ were done last term or even previously. Why didn’t anyone involved know that?  Obviously this council intends to take credit for last term’s efforts.

ACTION ITEM: Explore opportunities for innovative funding models, including Public-Private Partnership (P3) options, as a means to potentially fund Town initiatives.

Flog-a-dead horse number two. One doesn’t explore funding without a project and funding opportunities are explored by staff for every project that is proposed or approved. You don’t explore options in a vacuum. Sheesh.

One wonders why participants would think this sort of exploration hadn’t been done for projects over the last several decades. Most of the time nothing came of it because there was no money available from other levels of government and the private sector didn’t see a profit in participating.

There’s a common misconception that P3 options mean some private sector company will simply throw money at a project. Like a fat philanthropist, just give it away. It ain’t so. Private sector partners loan the money, they don’t give it. They’re in the game to make money, not just spend it. And they want their investment paid back, often at higher rates than the bank charges municipalities. There is no free lunch and no magic bullet here.

ACTION ITEM: Develop and implement a Debt Management Plan (DMP) that is realistic and measurable. The DMP will ensure that Council avoids taking on additional debt until the stabilization reserves and debt servicing limits recommended by the BMA Assessment of the Town’s Financial Health (December 2014) are achieved or within range to the satisfaction of the Town’s CAO and Council. The DMP will also provide guidelines for Council to follow in order to minimize the need for additional debt in the future.

Flog-a-dead horse three. Municipal debt isn’t like running up your credit card. Debentures are locked in to a payment schedule and agreed upon in a legally-binding contract. You don’t get to pay more if you have a surplus. You pay it on time at the amount and interest specified. No amount of wishful thinking can change that.

As for the “plan” (this council just loves plans, doesn’t it. Sure beats actually doing something!) last council initiated just such a financial management plan.

The BMA Assessment is another of those grandly flawed documents written to present a skewed perspective to accomplish political goals. It dovetailed into the ideology that motivates the majority at the table: Collingwood bad. We good. Past council break. We fix.

Well, if you buy into that, you’ve already drunk the kool-aid and I can’t help you.

ACTION ITEM: Monitor and report semi-annually on the debt repayment plan as an additional check and balance to be sure that Council remains accountable to its commitment to repayment.

This is becoming a whole herd of dead horses. Councils I have sat on or covered for the media for the past 25 years have all asked for reports on finances and debt. Last council we asked for it quarterly.

Council isn’t “accountable” in its commitment. in fact, council has no commitment or accountability in the matter of debt repayment. Debt and payment schedules are a legal contract and council has no say in them once signed.

ACTION ITEM: Develop and implement a comprehensive Communication Strategy for frequent, user-friendly communication with the public

Dead horse again. Done last term. Last council directed staff to hire a communications officer (Which they did) and get all of this underway. Who do they think puts out all those press releases and tweets?

The current group at the table protested the loudest about costs and content when last council sent out information newsletters to the community. Although this was merely implementing one of the suggestions in the Vision 2020 report of 1999, this group labelled it propaganda. Now they want to do exactly that.

Ain’t hypocrisy a wonderful thing?

ACTION ITEM: Host semi-annual Town Hall Meetings to engage the community in meaningful discussion on local matters

Been there, done that and flogged the dead horse: coffee with council public meetings were held three or four times a year last term and other terms had them, too. The biggest problem with them is getting all the politicians together on a weekend or evening.

But “meaningful” discussion – that’s nonsense. Are they going to stop someone from talking about the weather with the mayor because it’s not “meaningful”?

ACTION ITEM: Council to periodically revisit the Code of Conduct to ensure it is up-to-date and remains relevant

Been done for years since it was first instituted. The code still has to bow to the provincial laws and authority that govern council’s actions.

But this council wants to pretend that 1) this code matters to the public (outside of their remora, no one gives a damn) and 2) that this matters more than actually doing something. The latest revision as proposed is a bureaucratic quagmire of red tape, legalese, questionable legality and egregious complexity. I’m sure those at the table are proud of turning what should be a simple statement in 16 dense pages of puffery.

ACTION ITEM: Continue to use the CBSP logo as a means of identifying initiatives and activities that implement the community vision

Ooh. use a logo! I’m sure people will stop what they’re doing and point at the little coloured image and fall down on their knees to give thanks. And people will recognize this logo as a sign that the divinity has blessed their council.

Yeah. Right. Anyone remember the Vision 2020 logo?

ACTION ITEM: Ensure CBSP goals and action items are supported through the Town’s Strategic Financial Plan.

Snore. This is an action item the people of the town can get behind and talk to their neighbours about? I can imagine the conversation:

Mrs. Smith: The town cut down all the trees on the boulevard and didn’t plant any replacements. Now there’s no shade at all when we’re walking the dog and the children. It looks awful. Why do they do that?

Mrs. Jones: Agnes, you know that the town’s strategic financial plan meets the goals and action items of the CBSP? It even has the logo right there at the top.

Mrs. Smith: Oh, I didn’t know that. i feel better already. We’ll just use more sunscreen.

ACTION ITEM: Develop Key Performance Indicators that would inform the CBSP Report Card and ensure that the CBSP is implemented.

Sorry, did I wake you? Oh, yes, it’s crucial that the public gets a report card with key performance indicators (who capitalizes this stuff?) so they will know that a plan that they don’t give a rat’s patoot about is being implemented. Imagine the conversation:

Mr. Smith: Hey Bud, is the town ever going to fix the potholes in this road? I just about broke an axle on it last week.

Mr. Jones: Listen, Jim, no need to worry. The key performance indicators on the latest CBSP report card  show the CBSP is being implemented.

Mr. Smith: Oh, that’s alright then. I probably could do with a new axle.

ACTION ITEM: Develop and publish in various ways an easy-to-read CBSP Report Card that will be updated yearly to assess whether the objectives and goals of the CBSP are being implemented. The Report Card will contain guidelines for remedial measures in the event that the CBSP is not being implemented.

Do you get the feeling that a lot of these so-called “action items” are more about promoting and marketing the woo-hoo plan than actually doing something? Let’s get staff to make reports, create guidelines and spin their wheels instead of taking care of town business. Who cares about trails, pot holes and water mains when there are report cards to be written?

ACTION ITEM: Include the consideration of the CBSP as an item on reports to Council to ensure that Council’s decision making continues to keep the vision, goals and actions defined by the community at the forefront.

I’m not making this stuff up. That’s right from the web site. Back in the days of my first term on council, we had a similar section on every staff report about  the relevance to Vision 2020. After five years, we took it off because 1) no one in the public gave a damn and 2) after five years it’s either been done or surpassed by something else and 3) none of these plans have longevity past five years anyway.

ACTION ITEM: Integrate the CBSP logo to indicate to Council and the public where actions that implement the CBSP exist.

Really. That’s an “action” item. There’s more useful action in standing on one leg and balancing an egg on your head than this stuff.

ACTION ITEM: Establish a community advisory committee that meets periodically to monitor and assess the implementation of the CBSP.

Ah, just what we need: another group of unelected citizens to tell council what to do. Does this sound suspiciously familiar to you? Sure sounds like the old VOTE (Voters Opposed to Everything) agenda. Remember a couple of terms back when the mayor handed the meeting over the VOTE so it could grill council and make sure members were doing what they were told?

I didn’t attend that meeting. I argued it was illegal, immoral and unethical. Neither did Councillor (now Mayor) Cooper. But the rest of them did. That’s what’s planned now in this action item. And guess what? A lot of the folks behind this so-called plan are ex-VOTE members (the group’s former executive director is Councillor Doherty).

Coincidence? Not on your Nelly. This is part of the secret agenda I warned you about last article.

Next post I’ll follow up on the waterfront issues in the woo-hoo.

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