Politically incorrect: Hey Mayor and Council, what’s your plan?

Tim Palmer

Special to the Review

Across BC a few municipal councils have plans for their next four years in office. Many don’t.

If your elected municipal council doesn’t have a plan, what are they waiting for? They said they would make a difference. Have they? Will they?

The progressive council knows the planning process is critical. The ineffective council does not know what they are doing, because they don’t have a plan.

The effective council knows that the strategic plan is crucial to set staff direction. They know that a plan demonstrates community leadership and provides opportunity for community engagement. They know that a plan is essential to get things done.

Staff Direction

In the absence of a clear strategic plan by council, city staff will set the tone and direction for the community. Yes, you heard that right: staff will be in charge, not council.

With a good plan, complete with measurable actions and time lines, council will provide city staff with clear directions on priorities to focus on. Without a plan staff will direct council, and chart the course for them. If the topics on the council meeting agenda are taking the elected leaders by surprise, that is a sign that staff are setting the agenda.

Who is in charge in your community? City employees or the politicians you elected? City staff are not who the citizens elected as leaders. Without council direction and a good plan, the leaders will be staff. Staff will be the leaders of council. And that, in my opinion, is politically incorrect.

Without direction from council, staff naturally fill the leadership void. They will do what they have doing been for years, providing municipal services. That delivery of services may not be in alignment with the community’s values or how it wants to progress. But you will get services.

Your water will be safe to drink. You will continue to travel on a maintained road. Snow will be plowed, lifeguards will protect the swimmers, lawns will be cut, and streetlights will shine at night. Builders who fill in the required paperwork will eventually get permits. Thanks to the city employees, your city will continue to run without an effective council.

Without a plan, you will still get your annual tax bill to pay for an ambiguous and expensive future.

In the absence of council direction on priorities, staff will do what they think is important.

If, on the other hand, council has a good plan with effective community input, staff will be guided on what the community determines is important.

Leadership and Engagement

The second reason a wise council has a good plan is to demonstrate leadership and create opportunity for effective community engagement.

We voted for leadership on council. The strategic plan is an critical step for council to demonstrate that leadership. Ideally the Mayor provides strong overall leadership. Ultimately the Mayor is just one vote on council. Leadership responsibility lies with all of council

With good council leadership as a foundation, the strategic plan development will be based on community input and feedback. That engagement should have started. Some communities actively recruited feedback immediately after the November 2018 elections. They are hosted town hall meetings. Press releases were issued to inform the public. City websites continue to receive input from engaged citizens. Those municipal leaders know that a plan that isn’t written down, actively shared with the community and receiving public feedback, isn’t a plan.

A wise municipal council seeks community input so the plan is focused on what is important to the community and to ensure those priorities are achieved.

Getting Things Done

The third reason for the strategic plan is to get things done. Council’s four- year term will evaporate quickly.

Without a plan council will be pulled into the issues of the day. What was important last week will be forgotten. A viral social media post will eclipse the important.

Without clear priorities and a vision of where they are going, everything will be urgent, but little will get done. Staff will be told one thing is the most important only to have the focus changed next council meeting. Conflicting messaging will result in incomplete work, and cost overruns.

With a good plan, progress will be achieved. Goals with measurable milestones reported by staff on a strict time line to council that are holding them accountable, progress will be made. Important infrastructure upgrades will happen, community social concerns will be addressed and taxation will be reasonable.

Equipped with over 25 years in all aspects of municipal service, Tim Palmer, a local government consultant, is committed to helping towns and cities perform better.

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