Comment on Wolfville’s Strategic Plan

A lengthy comment on the Wolfville Strategic Planning Exercise and the June Draft Strategic Plan from Mr. Becker. We mostly agree, especially re the dearth of definitions and the non-quantifiable aspects of the plan. Other than that the plan is all motherhood and apple pie or, from another point of view, all smoke and mirrors.

Mr. Becker’s submission requires little further comment from us except to say that we believe Mr. Becker is mistaken about the status of Kentville relative to Kings County. Kentville is a municipality separate from the County. We think perhaps he is thinking of the “village” of New Minas which does reap the benefits of being in the  county. [Later: Mr. Becker has since confirmed that he mispoke- the revised version follows below]

As I said and wrote before our Wolfville has survived for decades and maybe even a century without a Strategic Plan. All of a sudden and with no reasonable explanation our Councillors and the Town Administration seem to need guidance and direction from a Strategic Plan. What is all the rush? I really wonder how they all could do their “jobs” in the past.

To make a point, I am very much in favour of the birth of a Strategic Plan for Wolfville’s citizens. However, such a plan needs to be phrased clearly and realistically, focussing and taking into account the citizens’ position and perception and not just – as done in the draft – the one of the Town Administration. In summary I am very disappointed with the content of this current draft. It does not seem to be worth the time and effort being put into this exercise.

The Draft Strategic Plan is the outcome of three sessions at the Irving Centre at Acadia University. These sessions were held during day-time hours when regular citizens were out for work and unable to attend. Obviously, there was no intention to involve the public into the drafting process. I even attended a public Council meeting where the Draft Strategic Plan became discussed amongst the Councillors, the CAO and an outside consultant who used Laptops while the audience was unable to follow and or understand what was going on. This was before the draft was made available on the Town’s website and as a hardcopy. To this Administration it still seems to be inconceivable to involve the public and “provide a better communication link”.

In the Introduction is stated “The plan provides an overview of the existing situational analysis of the Town of Wolfville..”.  I could not find it. In the business literature you will find the SWOT approach determining the presence and standing in for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Where is an analysis of the current situation in Wolfville and when was this done?

The near future may hold immense tax increases to pay for upgrades (without federal and/or provincial grants) of our streets and the water and sewer pipes below the surface plus the upgrade of our sewage plant to the level requested by the government. All this would have to be paid by the citizens of Wolfville, which I regard too small a property-tax base. Have there ever been given some thoughts to the idea to surrender the municipality status of Wolfville to become like New Minas a part of Kings County? This might benefit all citizens of Wolfville at least from the point of view that future financial threats will be based on the much broader platform of Kings County.

Under Council Objectives I disagree with the content of some points and how they are phrased. In general, Goals and Objectives should follow the SMART approach in the business literature standing in for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. I do not want to go into details here and now. Firmly, I believe that this whole part does not belong in a Strategic Plan.

The Vision statement “A vibrant and sustainable small university town which enriches our lives” is a very poor one. I have a major problem to clearly understand and grasp the only definitions of the parts “vibrant”, “sustainable” and “enriches our lives”. I have asked several people about those and each time I got a different answer and meaning. What enriches my life may and/or will not enrich the life of my neighbour.

A Vision Statement in general should be a high-level and more abstract statement, but still provide a clear and realistic picture with no ambiguity. Funnily and all of a sudden the perception of the citizens and not the one of the Town Administration was taken in this statement into consideration. I hope the “enrichment of our lives” was meant to address all Wolfville citizens and not just the lives of the members of the Town Administration and that this was not done by oversight or mistake. This part of the statement is phrased that nebulous that it would cover and/or excuse any poor and/or even stupid decision as well while trying to enrich the life of one or the other citizen but not the lives of all of them.

The Mission statement “To excel in the provision of effective and efficient government and work creatively with the community to achieve the vision” deserves the same critique. Where is a clear understanding and definition of “effective” and “efficient” government and what could actually be done or changed to become these adjectives excelled?

The Core Principles of Governance and Service Provision are not phrased as measurable goals and objectives and I could go through each of them with a very critical pencil. To take the first one as an example we could have endless discussions on the definitions and clear understandings of “ Wolfville aims to ensure ecological, social, cultural and economic integrity ..”. All these principles read well on paper. But I would like to have at least a clue on how the Town Administration is going to administer these principles with concrete actions.

The part Goal1: Enrich our Community with the Sub-Goals 1 to 4 I can live with despite the fact that the Objectives under each Sub-goal are phrased poorly, are incomplete and do not belong in a Strategic Plan, but may fit as measurable ones an Operational Plan and/or an Implementation Plan.

The Goal 2: Engage and communicate is the one everybody in the Town Administration talks about but nobody seems to understand its meaning and/or consequence. The Sub-Goal 1 sounds good to me but the Objectives under it do only partly tickle – if at all – this important goal. And they do not belong in a Strategic Plan.  In the definition of the Sub-Goal 2 “Build on our existing working relationship with Acadia University” I would like for reality reasons to have the words “on our existing” being replaced by the word “a”. The Objectives here have to be rephrased as well and as measurable ones put into different plans.

The third goal Enhance the Organization seems to be phrased as the poorest of the three goals. I can accept the Sub-Goals 1 without the text in brackets (“living within our means”) and Sub-Goal 2 (with the add-on of accountability) as strategic goals but disagree with most of the Objectives here. As before, these Objectives should be put somewhere else. Just as one example, I doubt very much that the Objective “Develop a multi-year financial plan ..” will have any direct impact on Sub-Goal 1: “Achieve fiscal health of our Town”.

To summarize my comments:

·         As in the past the much more important, valuable and short-term Operational and Implementation Plans are missing.  A Strategic Plan without these add-on plans is worth nothing. Personally, I would have liked to see the development of an efficient Operational Plan first with an outlook for the next two to three years as a solid platform for the derivation of a Strategic Plan, if really necessary. Not the other way round. This Town only goes through a sped-up budget process each year where too many directors present their wish lists in rounded thousands of dollars. This process cannot be regarded as a representation of an Operational and/or Implementation Plan with top-rank, second-rank and third-rank objectives etc. Nothing is measurable here. The directors are not measured of having done or doing a poor, average or good job and there is no accurate measure or even understanding of related and/or changing service levels under an assumption that certain budget positions are partly or entirely reduced.

·         Almost all of the attempted statements and definitions in the current draft fail to achieve clarity.

·         A Strategic Plan does not predict the future but it should give an answer to the questions:

Where do we want to be in 5 or even 10 years?

What actually has to be changed in our Town in order to get there?

Does this current draft give answers to these questions? No, it does not!

·         My prediction is: A Strategic Plan in whatever version and detail will become implemented and nothing will change for the citizens of Wolfville. A real pity!

·         At this time and with the current content I regard the presentation of the Draft Strategic Plan of June 2009 a futile exercise. An implementation of a realistic and clearly defined Strategic Plan is a very good idea. The execution of this idea by the Town Administration has so far been a very poor one including the attempt to involve Wolfville citizens after the drafting process was done without them and expecting the public to sanction the whole exercise later on.

Lutz E. Becker /


2 responses to “Comment on Wolfville’s Strategic Plan

  1. The “Strategic Plan” is:
    (1) Another make work project for pointless bureaucrats.
    (2) Another frustrating experience for the taxpayer.

    The “strategy” is to move your money into their pockets.

  2. Absolutely brilliant!