Comments on the Strategic Plan I

Two submissions on this issue. We will put them in separate posts in order of receipt. First –  these comments from David Daniels. We have taken the liberty of linking the url mentioned.

The following are comments and questions concerning the draft strategic plan (Plan).

As I have indicated in prior emails to you, townsfolk should be given more time to read, discuss amongst themselves and comment upon the Plan.  The letter and Plan, to my knowledge, appeared on the Town’s website on July 15th.  That allows five or six days to provide written comments. Is there a reason why it must be approved by Council at this time, in the middle of the summer, when many people are sure to be away?

The Mayor’s introductory letter indicates the Council wishes to “engage and communicate with our residents” and states “please tell us how you would like us to involve you in our decisions and activities.”  Two of the seven listed “objectives” for the strategic planning exercise are: Provide better communication link to the public – build the bridge so that we are responding to their issues” and  “Improved communication with the people – improved budgeting process – ensure that meetings accomplish set goals and that aren’t scrambling in April to rush the budget”

The proposed Mission states: “To excel in the provision of effective and efficient government and work creatively with the community to achieve our vision.” (My emphasis.)

Besides placing the notice on the website, what steps has the Town taken to inform the public about this key document and obtain feedback?  As of noon, July 17th, there was no notice of the Plan or of the July 21st public meeting on kiosks near the bus stop or at the corner of Main and Gaspereau.  On noon on July 15th, the librarian was not aware of any copies of the Plan at the library.

Public input is important in order to have a different views incorporated into the Plan.  See Sub-Goal #4: Enhance social diversity.  At least as to age and gender, the Council is not especially diverse; all male, all over 50.   I believe only one Council member has a child presently enrolled in a Town public schools.

Prior to the formulation of the Plan, the Council went through a SWOT analysis in which it reviewed Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats  of the Town.  In order for residents to understand the Plan, and how it was derived, it would be very helpful to have a summary of the SWOT analysis.  The residents will be better able comment upon and understand the Plan if they are provided with this background information.

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Comments and questions concerning “Core Principle of Governance and Service Provision.

Sustainability:

Is it appropriate for the town government to commit without reservation that it will “consider[] both short and long term benefits and risks equally when making decisions.”  Perhaps there should be a provision that requires such consideration when appropriate or relevant?

“Wolfville aims to ensure ecological, social, cultural,  and economic integrity . . .”  Could there be some explanation as to the meaning of ecological integrity, social integrity, cultural integrity, economic integrity?

Equity and Inclusiveness:

Why will these principles only be used to guide decisions related to the development of policies and procedures?  Aren’t there other decisions which might be informed by these principles?

Fiscal Responsibility:

Should there be a statement that the town should be “living within its means”?  Does “affordability” capture this principle?

Community Health, etc.

Should reference be made to economic well-being of residents.

Transparency and Participatory Government

Is the Code of Conduct on the Town’s website?

How do you make a “communication process” accountable?

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Comments and questions on Goals.

Is there a cost (both in terms of money and staff time) associated with the specified goals set out in the Plan, and if so, what are these estimated costs?

The setting of goals also entails a broader issue which should be at least acknowledged if not addressed.  Many, if not all, of the goals listed are likely to require the expenditure of staff time if they are to achieved.  Can the Town afford the staff spending its time achieving all the goals listed?  And even if the Town could afford the cost, does it want to have its tax dollars spent for this purpose?

There should be a list of each and every item in the Plan that will require the expenditure of staff time and an estimate of staff time needed.  With this information in hand, the Council and the public will be able to make informed decisions about whether achieving the goals set will be worth it.

The issue of the expenditure of staff time takes on particular importance because the Town’s increased expenditures for General Government and Administration  during the past eight years has far exceeded the percentage increase in population growth and the cumulative increase of the consumer price index during that time period.

Should these goals be prioritized?  And if so, how and by whom?

What will occur if goals come into conflict with one another?  Is there a mechanism to decide between two conflicting goals?

The following are some suggestions to help implement the Goal: Engage and Communicate, Sub Goal No. 1: Foster the positive engagement of citizens.

–Put in place a volunteer ombudsman who will be able to respond to complaints raised by citizens.  This can be modeled after Nova Scotia’s Ombudsman Act.

–Devote greater staff time to keeping the public informed.  Eg. failure to post on Kiosks.  If this means staff time being diverted, then need to prioritize.

–Respond to ALL correspondents sent to town hall if only with acknowledgment that it was received.

–Develop a community newsletter.

–Unless necessary, no councilor questions during the Question Period at Council meetings.  Councilors have the ability to ask each other and staff questions  directly and obtain responses.  If the Councilors feel that the answers should be known by the public, then the answers can be placed in the newsletter or Town website or by some other means.

–Improve Town website:  for example, establish a “bulletin board” where comments can be placed by subject.  There should be a written policy indicating what submissions or parts of submissions will not be posted.  Place the agenda of the meeting before that meeting’s minutes.  This will facilitate review of the minutes.

Consider establishing area advisory committees,  if appropriate.  See Municipal Government Act Sec. 201

There should be a written policy, approved by Council, as to what subjects and how a citizen or a group of citizens can make a presentation to Council.

The Council might consider having a formal “open house” during which citizens can voice concerns.  Leaving it up to contact with individual Councilors or the Mayor or Town staff may not be sufficient.

The Council might consider instituting a variation of participatory budgeting.  See the following website:
http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEMPOWERMENT/Resources/14657_Partic-Budg-Brazil-web.pdf

The Council may wish to consider making its meetings more accessible for citizens.  Have afternoon sessions where daycare is provided; have recordings of the meetings placed on the internet.

Some of these ideas will require staff time and money to implement.  Council should make decisions about the allocation of its scarce resources (staff and money) In light of the apparent importance Council places on such engagement.

David A Daniels
July 19, 2009



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One response to “Comments on the Strategic Plan I

  1. I think David raises a good point:

    “See Sub-Goal #4: Enhance social diversity. At least as to age and gender, the Council is not especially diverse; all male, all over 50. I believe only one Council member has a child presently enrolled in a Town public schools.”

    However, my impression of the Strategic Plan was that Council sees this Sub-Goal was more in terms in-migration of more diverse types of people than in terms of representation on Council.

    In this later context, one has to be careful about planning… Diversity certainly can make things interesting — and it can be a formula for conflict. The devil is always in the detail.

    The Strategic Plan is non-specific. It says too little about too much.