Strategic planning: what we missed


Strategic planningThe July 2016 issue of Municipal World has an article on the process of implementing strategic plans. It’s called, Getting from Here to There, and it’s written by a trio of experts including the president of a company specializing in municipal strategic planning, a strategic planning professional in the public sector, and a CAO from Alberta. In the short, two-page article, it outlines pretty much everything Collingwood did wrong in its so-called strategic plan – which was neither a plan nor strategic.

Experts, schmexperts, eh? Who needs experts? Not Der Block! I mean, aside from all the out-of-town buddy consultants and ambulance chasers the town’s administration has hired at great expense… can you really think of a better use for several hundred thousand of your tax dollars than paying people to tell you what to think? Neither can I…

Because The Block cancelled its collective subscription to MW in early 2015, it won’t read the advice of experts in this and any other field. Thus it will avoid polluting its myopic ideology with information, process, education, and peer advice. After all, when you already know everything, what need is there to learn what others do?

Besides, when you want outside advice, the administration will happily buy some for you that matches your own ideology.

But for my readers, I’d like to examine the process as outlined in the article and compare it to Collingwood’s. Keep in mind that what The Blockheads risibly call a “community-based strategic plan,” I usually refer to as a poorly defined, committee-based wish list. But let’s move on to the comparison.

Step 1: Develop a strategic plan (council). Right from the start, we fumbled. Council shirked this major responsibility and instead handed it off to a tailored committee that contained friends and supporters unlikely to challenge The Block’s ideology. Last term, of course, council had not one but two strategic planning sessions to set and then re-evaluate goals. This term, council has had… None.

With the Blockhead method, the tail wagged the dog. Instead of elected officials taking their leadership role responsibly, they shirked the duty. Council – and thus the town – became hostage to the whims and wishes of non-elected officials. Or would be if The Block weren’t otherwise occupied with destroying our utilities, our relationships, partnerships, staff morale and reputation. But once they’ve accomplished that…

Step 2: Develop Business Plans. The Collingwood vehicle has left the tracks and overturned. Nowhere are business plans to be found. In fact, the economic development officer wasn’t even brought in to even suggest, let alone develop, them. Nor was the treasurer. It’s all just loosey-goosey, warm-and-fuzzy stuff. Puff pastry without filling.

Business plans require foresight, budgeting and implementation, and the last thing The Block wants is for someone to interfere with their ideology by implementing something The Block can’t control, something they didn’t initiate. Best to leave the whole thing vague and generic. Skip step two: we’re already in train wreck status, let’s leave the engine there.

Step 3: Budget Preparation and Adoption. Well, as you now realize, this is already speculative fiction territory for Collingwood. There was no budget, no financial analysis, no planning, no adoption of any plans. Just a grandstanding, chest-thumping oratory, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Step 4: Finalize Business Plans. We’ve now moved to astronomical distance, light years, maybe light centuries beyond anything The Block has produced. This is Star Trek stuff: the science fiction future where things Actually Get Done.

You cannot finalize what you never had in the first place, so instead, our council simply tells people how wonderful they’ve been in their strategic planning, while overlooking the crucial, missing bits. Like measurable results. Like actual plans.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

Step 5: Implement Business Plans. You can’t implement what you can’t finalize and you can’t finalize what you never had. By now, we’re into territory that might be called the supernatural. Collingwood’s business plans are figments of the imagination, like ghosts, goblins and leprechauns: easy to talk about, hard to prove. Only wingnut conspiracy theorists think they’re real.

Step 6: Report on Business Plans. Well, that’s easy: nothing. Nada. Zip. Never had them, never will. No need to report on what’s missing, what was never accomplished. By now, you realize how far from the process we’ve strayed into these dark woods and become lost. As Dante wrote:

I found that I was in a gloomy wood,
because the path which led aright was lost.
Inferno, Canto I

Step 7: Input into Year in Review Report. Well, that’s also a dead issue, too. No year in review report. What would it say? Accomplishment: passed a bylaw to make it illegal to throw birdseed on your driveway. Destroyed water utility. Destroyed electrical utility. Destroyed staff morale throughout the town. Ruined town’s reputation and relationships with municipal partners and neighbours. Established anti-business, anti-development platforms to deter growth. Raised taxes. Raised water rates. Fooled the electorate. Lied about tax increases. Fumbled, bumbled, stumbled and mumbled. Wasted hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on outside lawyers and buddy consultants. Extended the interim CAO’s $225,000-a-year contract twice despite obvious cost savings and morale improvements with a permanent CAO. Discussed more town business in secret, behind closed doors than any other council before.

Hardly stuff The Block wants to have carved into the historical record. That’s why you read it here, not in the local media or in a year-end report card.

So let’s see: seven basic steps to creating a proper, municipal strategic plan. And this council accomplished… none of them. Not a single step taken towards creating a proper strategic plan.

Even when the committee-based wishlist that gets thrown about like it actually has content, it is ignored by council. Just one example: housing. The wishlist says we need “… housing options that are equally diverse and economically feasible.” Housing is mentioned seven times in the wishlist and represents two action items. Yet on Monday night, when a subdivision that includes much-needed apartments is discussed (starts at 0:48:00 in the video), councillors Edwards (0:49:37) and Doherty (0:51:36) object to it, knowing that the province has mandated the density and we desperately need more rental units!*

Oh well, there’s always another council. In 2018, we can elect people who actually care about the town, care about our residents and ratepayers, not just themselves. Just keep telling yourself: Collingwood deserves better.

More council notes from Monday:
* Amusingly, around 0:53:00 Doherty says the town shouldn’t just “lay down and play dead when the province tells us we have to fall in line…” over planning issues. Here’s the Block’s great legal mind at work… well of course the town has to: the province is the authority and municipalities have no individual or independent authority. And we are also responsible to Simcoe County.

The municipality is bound by the Municipal Act, the Planning Act and others to do what the province tells us. At 0:53:45, the planner explains that is we don’t approve the plan, then the town would be taken to the Ontario Municipal Board where we would be accused of not doing our best to fulfill the provincially-mandated growth plan. And we’d have to hire outside planners to support our new position, since town staff have already supported the subdivision. But I’m sure Doherty knows more about planning and municipal law than the planner.

And at 0:55:00, “Senator”Jeffrey makes the point that this discussion has already been had at the standing committee, yet councillors choose to bring all the old arguments back up. Another proof that the whole standing committee system is broken and wastes everyone’s time and energy.

At 0:56:00 Councillor Fryer flipflops on his previous conflict of interest (the developer is his brother-in-law) and says he will participate in the discussion despite that relationship. He’s right: under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, unless there’s a direct financial interest involved, siblings and in-laws do not represent a conflict (whereas parents and children do).

Here’s where the hypocrisy sets in: The Block and its mouthpieces have continually condemned the mayor for the same sort of conflict when her brother is involved, even when she also has no legal conflict to declare. The Block even tried – illegally – to push through additions to the town’s Code of Conduct to include those relationships.

As a result of the pressure, the mayor declares a conflict and excuses herself from all discussions where her brother is involved, like the Airport. Yet here’s Fryer defending his actions for not doing what The Block demands of the mayor. Oh, that lovely stench of entitlement…

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