As I reported last week, New West Council completed our Strategic Priority Plan. You can read the plan here, and I will write a second post about the content of it, but first a bit about the process that got us here, and the next steps. In the Strat Plan Blogging sandwich, this will be about the bread, and we can talk about the meat in the middle in the next post.
This Strategic Plan is the work of all of Council, with significant support from staff in preparing it. This is a new Council, with 4 new members and a new Mayor. We have also seen some significant changes in the last few years, between the persistent impacts of COVID-19 on our program delivery and the generational scale of our capital plan. Though it is common for a new Council to adopt a new strategic plan to guide staff work for the term, I felt it was important that this time we take a bit of time for the new Council to get their feet under them, and that we do intensive onboarding and training to assure all of Council are adequately informed to take a meaningful part in the Strat Planning.
As both Strategic Planning and budget planning take a lot of work, I did not want to rush through the former before we started working on the latter, and the budget has legislated timelines we needed to meet. The timing we followed allowed Council a chance to go through their first budget cycle before we buttoned up the Strat Plan – an important lesson in compromise and priority setting. The Strat Plan (and future budgets) will be stronger because we did this learning, but we also needed to recognize that our Strat Plan will not be fully demonstrated in our budget until next year.
The Strat Plan process included a weekend workshop, it was embedded into the many onboarding workshops we held, and there were early written drafts that all of Council opined on, as staff were able to frame and make sensible from all of that input. This was a good exercise overall, as members of Council were free to discuss technical and legislative policy limits with staff in a way that they feel free and unencumbered to ask the “bad question”. There was also space to debate values, ideas, policies, and challenges in a way that is mostly free of the political fray. I think we grew as a Council through this.
All that said, there is a responsibility that Council make decisions transparently, which means that the Strat Plan comes to an open meeting, and all of Council have an opportunity to speak to it. You can see this process (closed development discussion followed by open release and endorsement) is the standard practice for Municipalities that do strategic plans, and you can see other Munis reports here, here, and here.
Now that the Strat Plan is adopted, we will use it to guide future budget discussions, and will integrate it with our other major planning documents, from the Official Community Plan to our Climate Action Plan and Parks and open Spaces Strategy. When Staff or Council bring ideas forward, they will be discussed in the context of this plan – either the new work should match our priorities, or we need a compelling reason to adjust those priorities.
To bring the Strat Plan to function, we will likely be making some changes in the operation of the City. We had a report last week about Advisory Committees, and are beginning the work to assure they are structured to serve the priorities of the Strat Plan. It is also possible that we will make some organizations changes at the staff level to assure that workplans are better aligned with Council’s priorities and that the reporting structure is designed to provide oversight and accountability to the goals of Council as expressed by the Strat Plan. This is the work of the months ahead.
We are in a time when Local Governments are being asked to do more things for more people all the time. We are also being asked to do more with less, in the sense that our budgets are strained and the regional labour shortage means fewer people are available to do the expanded work. To achieve our major strategic goals, we are going to have to set priorities. This is a hard thing for New Westminster (the City, and the community) to do – we are the small city that does a lot, and we are proud of our level of achievement. Yes, there are a lot of great things we could do but we simply cannot do it all. This is called a Strategic Priorities Plan for a reason, and I’ll write in the next post about what those priorities are.
Finally, it was disappointing that the work of the last few months was not endorsed by all of Council. I assumed everyone was in those meetings and discussions for the same reasons, to work out a shared sense of principles and priorities. I thought we had got there, and it was communicated to me that we got there. To have a last-minute amendment on a parochial item seemed performative to me, and to use the lack of support for this performative gesture as an excuse to oppose the result of months of staff and Council work seemed to disregard the collaborative approach Council had taken into this work. I am disappointed by that, but will learn from it.